The Right Sport for Your Kids

How to find the sport that will suit your child the best

You know that sports can boost your child’s health, body image and social skills. But you’re also aware of the injuries: to your kid’s shins, to your bank balance and, sometimes, to your child’s self-esteem when she just can’t connect with the ball/puck/sensei. Fact is, some sports are more suitable for certain personality and body types than others, not to mention parents (some of us don’t function well at 5 a.m. behind the steering wheel of a minivan loaded with sweaty preteens, okay?). So we talked to coaches across the country to find out what you and your family can expect in the beginner to intermediate levels of Canada’s 10 most popular sports.

SOCCER

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT
An energetic, adaptable kid who isn’t shy. Think about waiting until your child is aged five or six and shows an interest in kicking a ball around, suggests Emily Gemelas, vice-president of mini programs for the Abbotsford Soccer Association in B.C. By then he’ll be able to work well on a team and demonstrate a personal (not parental) interest in the sport.

PHYSICAL BENEFITS
Builds balance, cardiovascular strength, reaction time and hand-eye coordination.

OTHER BOONS

Team play teaches good sportsmanship. And the sport is particularly inclusive of gals ““ some younger teams mix boys and girls together.

 

 

SAFETY TIPS

Warm-up exercises and shin guards are advisable. Most coaches of younger teams discourage heading the ball and slide tackling (soccer is one of the top five sports leading to injuries in children under age 14, according to Safe Kids Canada).

 

 

TIME INVOLVED

One hour, twice a week (typically an early evening practice and a weekend game).

 

 

COST

Between $185 and $285 per season, including the uniform. Cleats are extra.

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

Get a fuel-efficient car and a chauffeur’s hat. “Not all games are going to be at home,” says Gemelas. “Travel is involved at every level.”

 

 

GYMNASTICS

 

 

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT

Any child aged 18 months old and up, says Patti Healey, general gymnastics director at Taiso
Gymnastics in Lower Sackville, N.S.

 

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Builds every muscle group and boosts coordination, spatial awareness and flexibility.

 

 

OTHER BOONS

Mastery over the body increases self-confidence quicker than some other sports, says Healey. The fundamental movement training helps if your child goes into hockey, volleyball or running. (Boys now make up about 40 per cent of participants, Healey adds.)

 

 

SAFETY TIPS

Look for certified coaches who emphasize fun and safety. Back and wrist injuries can be avoided when instructors are in tune with the gymnast.

 

 

TIME INVOLVED

Typically one hour per week, up to a maximum of four hours.

 

 

COST

$100 to $200 for a 12-week program, depending on the province and non-profit/for-profit status of the club.

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

Your little gymnast probably won’t be heading to the Olympics. Only about five per cent of children are selected for pre-competitive training, much to the chagrin of many parents, says Healey. Some clubs are more competitive, others more recreational, so ask about the club’s philosophy.

 

 

HOCKEY

 

 

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT

Anyone can play recreationally, but those with great balance, stamina and speed will excel at competitive levels, says Doug Allport, spokesperson for the Kanata Girls Hockey Association in Ontario. Bring ’em in around age six, when they can already skate and, evenbetter, play ball hockey.

 

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS
Develops balance, endurance and aerobic capacity.

 

 

OTHER BOONS

“You learn to play a role ““ and that you can’t always be in the role you want,” says Allport. Plus, many teams are involved in community service. While there are more girls’ teams than ever before, expect to travel farther for games.

 

 

SAFETY TIPS
Find out about bodychecking rules in your hockey district, and don’t let kids enter a level they’re not ready for. (Hockey is ranked as Ontario’s number-one team sport leading to injuries requiring hospitalization.) Get equipment fitted or adjusted every year. Most leagues require a full-face shield and mouthguard.

 

 

TIME INVOLVED

Two hours per week, including one practice and one game.

 

 

COST

Between $500 and $1,000 a season, including equipment.

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

Think: your butt parked on an ice-cold bench at 6 a.m. on Saturday. Travel time and costs can be painful, too.

 

 

BASEBALL

 

 

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT

Can have any body or personality type; different positions require different skills.

 

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Increased flexibility, hand-eye coordination and reaction time. “Speed and power are tested in different ways depending on the position played,” says Morgan de Peña, executive director of the Manitoba Baseball Association in Winnipeg.

 

 

OTHER BOONS

Co-operation, concentration and analytical thinking are all part of the game.

 

SAFETY TIPS

Besides minor strains and sprains, getting hit with the ball is the biggest risk (yup, it’s another top-five sport for injuries). Learning how to catch with the glove and wearing a protective batting helmet are key.

 

TIME INVOLVED

Two to three one- to three-hour practices or games per week.

 

 

COST

$250 to $450 per season, including glove, helmet and cleats.

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

“The pastoral pace of baseball may turn off some players,” says de Peña. Ditto some parents ““ although many enjoy the bleacher-seat chat. “Other children love the changing dynamics: what’s the score, inning, etc.,” he adds.

 

 

BASKETBALL

 

 

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT

Any kid can play. And don’t worry about height: lower baskets and smaller balls and courts allow children to progress and graduate to official-sized equipment. Between ages six and eight
is a good time to start, says Rob Martini, past president of the Hamilton Basketball Association in Ontario.

 

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Cardiovascular endurance, upper- and lower-body strength and hand-eye coordination.

 

 

OTHER BOONS

Aside from teamwork skills, basketball can boost self-confidence sooner than some other sports, says Martini, thanks to the relative ease of scoring baskets. “In other sports, it can sometimes take years
for a child to score a goal.”

 

 

SAFETY TIPS

Stretching can help avoid joint sprains. Another way to cut injury risk? “Choose programs that mirror an individual child’s skill level,” says Martini. “Many families push their young athletes into elite-level programs too soon.”

 

 

TIME INVOLVED

Two hours per week, including one practice and one game.

 

 

COST

“$80 to $100 per season includes everything except shoes and shorts,” says Martini.

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

Your little all-star will probably spend a lot of time warming the bench ““ one of the most common parent complaints.

 

 

DOWNHILL SKIING

 

 

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT

An independent, energetic and focused kid aged six and up. “Proximity to the slopes helps, too, as does having a friend in the program,” says Brent Kehl, program director for Cypress Ski Club in Vancouver. Shy kids find the sport tougher, he says.

 

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Strength, balance, agility and aerobic capacity.

 

 

OTHER BOONS

Discipline and time management become core skills because of the amount of training time. There are cool career options, too.

 

 

SAFETY TIPS

Full safety nets on the slopes, wider skis and safer bindings and boots equal fewer injuries, but
getting fitted gear at a professional ski store is still crucial. “People try to buy equipment that will last, which means too-big boots and skis that make it easier to fall,” says Kehl. For boarders, wrist guards protect against broken wrists and thumbs. The Canadian Ski Patrol also strongly supports helmets for children.

 

 

TIME INVOLVED
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About seven hours per week; up to 20 when they’re 11 and older.

 

 

COST

About $1,000, including lift fees for one year.

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

This ain’t a low-income sport. “But given the number of hours and the amount of supervision,” says Kehl, “it’s cheaper than daycare!”

 

 

FIGURE SKATING

 

 

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT

This sport suits all ages, all levels, all shapes and sizes, says Donna King, senior skating programs manager for Skate Canada in Ottawa. Kids aged four and up can typically take direction from a coach.

 

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Cardiovascular and muscular strength, endurance and flexibility.

 

 

OTHER BOONS

Perseverance, goal setting and coping skills to deal with success and failure. Plus, the chance to wear Lycra and sequins! (Boys still make up only 25 per cent of figure skaters, by the way.)

 

 

SAFETY TIPS

Investing in a CSA-approved hockey helmet reduces the risk of head injuries, more common among younger skaters. Layers of non-bulky outerwear help ward off the chill. Skip the scarf, which could impair movement or vision, says King.

 

 

TIME INVOLVED

One to two 45-minute lessons per week.

 

 

COST

A 10-week CanSkate program rings in at about $120 to $150, not including skates and helmet.

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

Chilling your butt in that cold arena again. “People say that figure skating is expensive, but costs are comparable to other competitive sports like hockey, diving or gymnastics,” says King.

 

 

KARATE

 

 

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT

An individualistic teen. Kids can start from age four, but around age 16 they’re really able to focus on the sport, says Mark Minark of the Saskatchewan Karate Association in Saskatoon.

 

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Cardio, strength, balance, flexibility and stress relief.

 

 

OTHER BOONS

In addition to self-defence, this martial art emphasizes respect, perfection of one’s character and mind-body awareness. Improved attention can also be a nice by-product.

 

 

SAFETY TIPS

Ensure that the instructor is recommended and well qualified, but expect some finger and toe sprains and the occasional cut lip. “These are accidental because karate is actually non-contact,” says Minark.

 

 

TIME INVOLVED

Ideally two to three one-hour lessons per week, but often just one lesson.

 

 

COST

Between $45 to $80 per month, plus $40 and up for a gi (uniform).

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

Your little bruiser won’t be pulling a Jet Li any time soon. Some parents are disappointed when they find out that karate’s actually about dealing with situations non-violently, says Minark. Others get squirmy about the mental-spiritual aspect of the practice and bowing to the sensei, he adds.

 

 

VOLLEYBALL

 

 

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT

Team-oriented kids. At the highest competitive levels, it also helps to be tall because you can control the ball better, says Ard Biesheuvel, president of Stars Volleyball. Programs like Stars in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and Spikes in Ontario use smaller courts, lower nets and lighter balls. Children can play as young as six with Stars and eight with Spikes.

 

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Boosts strength, reflexes, agility and concentration.

 

 

OTHER BOONS

Learning to rely on your peers. “Volley-ball is the ultimate team sport,” says Biesheuvel. “You can be the best hitter in the world, but if you don’t have a setter, you’re out of luck.”

 

 

SAFETY TIPS

A good warm-up and knee pads can help reduce injury. Sprained ankles and broken fingers aren’t uncommon, but difficult to avoid. New lighter, cloth-covered balls mean the sport is easier on young arms.

 

 

TIME INVOLVED

One hour per week. In middle or high school, one to five practices per week.

 

 

COST

$80 for eight weeks with Stars; can be as much as $160 for the same elsewhere.

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

You may not be able to find a program for your younger children. Stars and Spikes are pretty new, and not widely available yet.

 

 

SWIMMING

 

 

THE IDEAL PARTICIPANT

“Every child in Canada can and should learn to swim, for the safety aspect alone,” says James Hood, general manager of Swim Alberta in Edmonton.

 

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Cardiovascular strength, body awareness and motor skills from swimming boost performance in other sports.

 

 

OTHER BOONS
Practices teach dedication and time management. Plus, job opportunities as a coach or lifeguard may arise.

 

 

 

SAFETY TIPS

Dryland stretching before swimming decreases injury risk. (Sure, it’s a low-impact sport but
repetitive strain injuries do occur.) Soothe chlorine-irritated eyes with a few drops of milk and thoroughly dry ears to avoid swimmer’s ear.

 

 

TIME INVOLVED

Two to three 30- to 60-minute workouts per week.

 

 

COST

Ranges from a few dollars a lesson through public recreation centres to club registration fees of $50 to $125 monthly, plus swimsuits, goggles and swim caps.

 

 

PARENT REALITY CHECK

“It takes 66 volunteers to run a swim meet,” says Hood. “Parents are amazed by the time commitment.”

 

 

Lisa Murphy is a Toronto freelance writer whose four-year-old son will skate for muffins.

 

 

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