When is the Best Time to Start Your Child in Sports?

You know you have an athlete but when should you enroll your child in sports?

All parents want their child to live a healthy and happy life, with lots of friends and good memories.  Involving children in physical activity and sports will certainly help to achieve these goals. Playing sports is also loads of fun and teaches important leadership skills.

Timing matters though, in terms of when to start a child in sports, as does understanding the physical, mental and social capabilities associated with the different ages of childhood.  According to Banner Health, starting a child too early in organized sports, or too intensively in any one sport could lead to injuries, disinterest, or sports burnout.

Sports and Physical Activity for Babies and Preschool-aged Children (ages 1-5)

Sports for babies?  Watch any toddler, and you’ll see a lot of active body movement – running, jumping, tumbling, splashing in water, kicking, reaching, throwing and catching balls. These spontaneous activities form the basic movements in many sports.

Highly structured, competitive activities are unlikely to stick with the naturally short attention spans of 1-5 year olds, so it’s better to seek out age-appropriate physical activities.

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends that children take part in at least 60 minutes of physical activity EVERY DAY.  Chances are, most children on their own are moving around that much each day.

Why not add some structure, variety and social opportunity to your child’s budding life with sports?

Many local leagues and facilities offer safe, fun activities and games aimed specifically at beginners:

  • Parent and baby classes that focus on movement and rhythm for babies and strength and fitness for parents – classes starting at age 6 weeks (YMCA) or age 18 months (Boys and Girls Club)

  • Learn to Swim : classes starting at age 6 months

  • Kinder Gyms : classes starting at age 12 months

  • Learn to Skate : classes starting at age 3 years

Sports for Early School Children (ages 6-9)

In this age range, children can move their bodies in more coordinated ways, and enjoy the challenges of testing their new-found strengths and skills.

Attention spans are longer, following instructions is easier, and interest in playing or competing with others is stronger – a good time to start with organized sports and popular activities like basketball, dance, soccer, hockey, and baseball.

You may want to start by trying out week-long summer or March Break sports camps.

The commitment and cost is a lot less than signing up for a full-season sport. Sports camps also provide the opportunity to try out many different sports and formats, i.e., individually (gymnastics, cross country running), doubles (tennis, badminton), and teams (basketball, football, baseball and soccer).

youth soccer practice

Where to find week-long summer or March Break sports camps:

  • Local YMCAs

  • Municipal Recreation Departments

  • Brock University

  • Organized leagues

The cost to enroll and support a child in sports is another important consideration.  Some sports, like hockey, may involve practice time along with game time, travel to different locations as well as the cost of equipment.

Other sports, like swimming, involve minimal equipment, and often just one location.  Talk to parents with children already involved in sports to better understand the total costs. Sample sport costs (including equipment, lessons, travel, league fees, off-season camps):

High-cost Sports

(>$1,000 season)

Middle of the Road

(<$1,000 season)

Low-cost Sports

(<$500 season)




Horseback Riding









Sports and the Preteen (ages 10-13)

In this age range, children’s interest and participation in organized sports peaks, not only because their bodies can physically handle the more complex movements required, but also because of a keener interest they have in the social aspects of sports.

“Belonging” is an important social development stage for preteens.  Sports provide a structured method of engaging both physically and socially with peers.

Note: Children in this age group vary greatly in terms of physical size and social maturity.  Parents should consider their child’s particular stage of development as they explore various sports.

Talk to league organizers, coaches and parents of children already in the league to better understand what to expect, time and cost-wise. Involve the child in decision-making.

Be prepared to try many different sports until a good match is found.

Most popular full-season sports for kids aged 9-13 years

  • Basketball

  • Soccer

  • Baseball

  • Hockey

  • Football

  • Volleyball

  • Lacrosse

girls basketball team

Sports for Teenagers (ages 14-18)

There are many opportunities in high school for teens to try out for a school-based sports team and training early prepares them better.

This can be a very competitive and emotional venture when only 15-20 students will be picked from a school of 1,000 students. This doesn’t mean the end of sports for those not initially selected.

Teens highly interested in a certain sport can continue to play and develop through organized leagues in their community, which can be just as much fun and just as competitive.

This is also a good time for teenagers to try new or non-traditional sports, such as:

  • Ultimate Football

  • Futsal

  • Pickleball

Whatever the activity or sport, whatever the age, the important thing is to get your child moving.  With over 350 Niagara Region based sports and activities to play or watch listed on Local Sport Search, getting started is now easier than ever.

Play Sports. Watch Sports. Live well. Have Fun. Pass it on. There’s always something sports-related happening somewhere in Niagara.