When should my kid start sports classes?

Oh hello there fellow parent. Looking to create the next Tiger Woods, David Beckham or Roger Federer, are you? Of course you are. I mean, have you seen how many millions they each earned this year? Wowsers. If those figures aren’t a reason to get your kid into sports classes as soon as possible, I am not sure what is.

So now we’ve decided that our offspring are definitely going to go to sports classes, enjoy them, become brilliant at some discipline or other, turn professional, make billions and allow us to retire early, all we need to do is work out when these lessons should begin. So, um, anyone got any suggestions?

I’m kidding, obviously. You don’t become a child international in two different sports (U-8 short tennis AND U-13 cricket) without having some idea of when a kid is ready to take up a sport. Or so I thought. In actual fact, I bought my son a tennis racket far too early, signed him up for a football class too late and expected him to nail breaststroke before he’d finished breastfeeding.

Fortunately, our local area has a bunch of class-running experts who were able to put me firmly back in my box. Thus, with my son approaching his 22-month birthday (don’t worry, it’s not a thing), I bring you everything I’ve learned about sports classes.

Tennis

Your kid can walk and hold plastic cutlery, so he or she will definitely enjoy standing on the spot trying to hit a bouncing ball, right? Wrong. “We start kids’ lessons from the age of three, as they don’t tend to have the necessary patience or concentration before then,” says the head coach at my local David Lloyd Club.

This sounds a bit late until you realise a) that three was the age that Andy Murray and Serena Williams started hitting ball and b) that when I bought my one-year-old a tennis racket he showed far more interest in hitting my legs, the walls and his toys than he did in smacking a ball.

Swimming

We’ve been taking our kid splish-splashing since he was about three months old, and put him in classes from the five or six month mark. This may sound ridiculously early, but in actual fact it’s potentially a little late – Water Babies will happily take kids from birth. Five things you should be aware of, however, are:

  1. You don’t stick a newborn in a cold swimming pool, so make sure the water’s warm before dunking your little one.
  2. ‘Swimming’ is a very loose term for what will go on for the first few months. ‘Kicking while being held’ would be a more accurate description.
  3. Babies are born with a natural instinct to hold their breath underwater. This reflex leaves them around   the six month mark at which point you may find that they begin to resist having their head submerged when the Grand Old Duke of York’s men are down.
  4. You are not alone; changing is a total nightmare for everyone.
  5. The moment they can walk, and hence run around the side of the pool, is a real game-changer.

Golf

Sure, Tiger Woods was swinging a club at six months and hitting balls at the age of two, but that doesn’t mean your kid is way behind where he or she should be. According to PGA Master Professional Chris Foley, there is no right age when a child should start swinging the club. “Some people are interested at three, for others it’s 11,” he says.

So how do you know if your kid is interested in the sport of birdies, bogeys and bunkers? Simple. You book a private lesson with your local golf professional and see what happens. For the record, my 22-month-old is not ready. I know this, because the only two things he does when he sees golf on the telly are:

  1. Shout “balls, go bang” whenever someone hits a full shot
  2. Laugh hysterically whenever someone misses a putt.

Suffice to say, I’m glad he’s never seen me play.

Climbing

Some of you may not view climbing as a sport. But it’s in the 2020 Olympics and my son’s awesome at it, so it makes my list. I’d love to take all the credit for my little man’s scrambling ability, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Yay, me. High five. Woo. Dad of the Year. Dad of the Year. Hello, hello, is anyone still reading this sycophantic tripe?

You are? Perfect. In that case, I can tell you all about the real reason my son is able to scale our staircases, sofa and most of our chairs with ease. It’s a sports class called Tumble Tots, it begins at six months and it teaches kids the physical skills of agility, balance, co-ordination and climbing by getting them to scale, crawl and jump on a variety of brightly coloured mats, tunnels, trampolines and climbing frames. I can’t recommend it enough.

Football

I was somewhat underwhelmed by my son’s first couple of Little Kickers classes. Sure he got given a nice red strip, but where was the football match? Why were there so many instructions? And why did they have to pick up so many cones?

Seven weeks on, my son sings, “Football crazy, nuts are we, we’re all football crazy,” throughout our car journeys to the class, his ball skills and colour recognition capabilities have developed significantly and all my questions have been answered.

These classes, which in my experience have a nice mix of boys and girls, begin from 18 months and continue all the way up to the date your little one turns seven, signs their first professional contract and buys you a Ferrari.

Rugby

“My little one playing the brutal sport of rugby?! No, thank you, Father Hood.” Congratulations, you’ve mirrored my wife’s words exactly. So I may as well tell you what I told her. Which is…

“Forget all your preconceptions about the tackling, the concussions, the rucking and the eye-gouging. Rugby Tots is a non-contact class that teaches kids catching, passing, running, counting, teamwork, balance and agility.”

Seriously? Yes, seriously. Which is why my niece and nephew loved it, and I intend to sign my son up as soon as he hits the minimum age of two.

MMA

Don’t panic. Although my little cherub is showing more than a passing interest in child-on-parent violence and some real proficiency in the grapple zone, I have yet to sign him up for a mixed martial arts class. But for the record, if you are looking to get your kid into the world’s fastest growing sport, classes begin from around the age of five.

Digested all that? Excellent, then I’ll see you in the parents’ zone at the 2036 Olympics. Or, you know, on the beach near our retirement pads in Hawaii.

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