Sports vs activities for younger kids

I’ve never been great at sports, but that didn’t stop me from getting a lot out of them as a player and later as a referee. Sports are fun for all ages, but not as much fun for toddlers and preschoolers. Smaller kids don’t have as much desire for structure or competition when playing. Watching preschoolers try to ‘play soccer’ is incredibly cute, but they’d probably have more fun with a friend at the park.

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Unstructured playing also gives them more opportunity to socialize. For preschoolers that aren’t in school yet, this can be especially important because socializing is harder to come by.

A bunch of kids and only one ball might leave them dissatisfied if they don’t understand teamwork yet. When you grasp that your team succeeding is you succeeding, it’s easier to feel accomplished.


Best for toddlers and preschoolers

Take them to the park. Try to switch it up and go to different parks on different days to keep it interesting. Schedule playdates at the parks with other parents. This gives both you and your children people to socialize with.

Go to the pool. Kids have a blast splashing around in the water with their little floaters on and a couple cheap pool toys. This is a great option if you have a local public pool. Also, this is great exercise and really tires your kid out. Be ready for an earlier bedtime than usual.

Give them a ball to throw or kick around. They’ll get some good exercise running around chasing the ball and kicking it for no reason. But there’s plenty of other things to chase besides balls. Try shooting Nerf guns and having them retrieve the darts, or blowing bubbles for them. Kids love chasing bubbles!

For older, elementary school-age children, more organized activities are appropriate. This is a good time to start your child in a sport. Their increased physical coordination, strength, and attention span make them more able to participate in sports than preschoolers. It’s easier for them to understand teamwork and not swarm the soccer ball like they would before. It’s also easier for them to wait their turn in sports like teeball.

They also desire more structure. A 3 year old will kick a ball just because it’s there and have fun. A 7 year old wants more of a reason to kick the ball. Goals make more sense to elementary school kids and are more enjoyable than they are for toddlers.


Best for elementary school children

Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world for good reason. The simple rules are easy for children to follow, and the running is very healthy for children’s development. According to, “The health benefits of active sports such as soccer include stronger bones and muscles, decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and decreased chance of becoming overweight.”

Teeball is especially good for teaching your children patience and teamwork. This may not be as appropriate for children with shorter attention spans, since a significant portion of each game is spent waiting for their turn at bat. It also doesn’t give as much exercise as a soccer game does, though there is still plenty of running in short bursts. If your child is a little more impatient and needs to be moving while they play, definitely choose a more active sport like soccer.


Swimming lessons are great for your child’s self-esteem. When they begin, it’s very difficult and they can’t do very much. But simple techniques and practice quickly get them to the point where they’re much more comfortable in the water. Your child will feel a sense of accomplishment from gaining an entirely new skill, and will enjoy going to the pool and the beach more than before.

It’s also a great, safe exercise for your child. Swimming is hard, and strengthens your muscles, heart and lungs. But it strengthens without the risk of spraining or breaking any bones. I loved swimming as a kid, and I still remember the sense of accomplishment that came as my skills developed. It wasn’t as fun as soccer or baseball, but it was much more fulfilling for me personally.


Any older children are developed enough to have at least a version of any sport open to them. Baseball, softball, martial arts, tennis, basketball, hiking, running, to name a few.

Football is a possibility at this age, but keep in mind the increasing evidence of the damage from repeated small concussions. Sports should be developing your child and giving them a leg up on health later in life. Sports resulting in significant sprains, breaks or concussions should take into account the most current medical advice and studies.

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