Sports for Toddlers

Is it time for organized sports ... already?!

Sports for toddlers should be age-appropriate and low-key.
Lilly Dong / Getty Images

You've seen the sign-ups for team sports for toddlers: mini soccer, tiny tot t-ball, even baby cheer-leading. And maybe you've wondered: Are sports necessary for your one- or two-year-old? Nope. Active, free play, and plenty of it, is most important now. It supports your child's physical development and begins to teach her healthy habits.

But before you totally dismiss little-kid athletics as a premature entry into the crazy world of youth sports (you'll be there soon enough!), consider this.

When done right, sports for pre-preschoolers can be fun for both parents and kids. Plus, they can offer some developmental benefits. Here are some options you might encounter.

Toddler Sports Leagues and Samplers

Some youth sports leagues and community centers offer programs for little ones as young as 2 or 3 years old, most often in soccer or t-ball. As long as these are presented in the spirit of fun and physical activity, they can be a good choice for an energetic toddler. The emphasis should always be on movement, and on teaching very basic skills through play—never on competition. Kids should be moving most or all of the time, not having to wait for classmates to take their turn. They most likely don't have the patience for this anyway!

Similarly, sports sampler classes let toddlers try all kinds of sports, or at least kiddie versions of them. So they are another fun (and typically inexpensive) option.

Look for these offered through your city's parks and recreation department, community center, or public library. Again, be sure kids get lots of opportunities to move, and that there is no talk of winning or losing yet. Activities should be a fun introduction to simple sports concepts and skills.

Mom-and-Tot Classes

You can also expose your toddler to sports through parent-child classes, like tumbling, dance, or swimming.

Again, these aren't necessary for your child's development, but they are a fun activity you might enjoy sharing. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) does recommend at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity, along with at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity, for toddlers each day. So a class could contribute to that daily tally, as well as help your child work on some age-appropriate gross motor skills. You might also learn some games and songs that you could use at home with your toddler.

Child Care and Preschool

If your toddler is enrolled in child care or preschool, she may have some exposure to sports there. This should be in a low-key, informal way: activities such as playing with balls outside, running games, or music with movement. Even if your child is not playing sports at school, she should still get plenty of physical activity during her time there. So it's important to ask about that when checking out a care setting or program.

Continue Reading