A question sincerely asked

Yesterday the family took a trip to Target for various household necessities.

I do not know if all Target stores are laid out in the same way, but whoever was responsible for this Target’s lay-out was a wily soul.  For right there at the very entrance were shelves upon shelves of cheap, eye-catching doodads and toys and other objects sure to delight a small person of the Critter’s size.  And because I am not at all above using bribery to further my ends as a parent, I allowed my child to pick an item that he would like.  (The deal was that the item would remain in the cart for the duration of the time in the store.  It would be removed and transferred to our car for transport home if the Critter was sufficiently cooperative.  It would go back on the shelf if minimum levels of cooperation were not met.)

He chose a foam-rubber football.  As he did a really good job behaving himself, he got to take the football home.  And he went to naptime with a promise that we would throw the ball around when he awoke.

But getting back to the trip to the store, one of the things he wanted to do while we were there was look at the big wall of television sets in the electronics department.  I was quite happy to accommodate this request as the Better Half selected items for purchase, so off we went to the electronics department.  And we spent many happy minutes while the televisions (all displaying the same image) showed various Target promotions with vibrant red-and-white animated shorts.

Interspersed with these animated promos were occasional live-action bits.  One of these bits was a montage of exciting moments from various professional football games.  What it was promoting, I don’t recall.  But that’s not important.  What is important, at least for the purposes of this post, is that the Critter really seemed to enjoy watching those brief snippets of football.

I have a sneaking suspicion that my son is going to be good at sports.  He is already very good at kicking the soccer ball, which he will gleefully do for extended periods of time.  When I held the football for him, he also got pretty good at punting it.  I am delighted to see him enjoying himself so much, and really hope he finds in sports activities that help him have fun, get exercise, learn teamwork and feel like he can excel.


I know just about nothing about sports.  (More on this in the next day or so, I believe.)  I never played them as a child except for one lackluster season each of soccer and baseball.  While I love running, I did not discover this until I was in my 30s, and who knows if I would have liked running competitively as a kid.  Furthermore, I rarely watch sports for pleasure, except for the occasional tennis match (a game I have never played), baseball games if there’s nothing else on, or the Olympics.  The only times I ever watch football are when I am someone else’s house and it’s on.  And even though it’s been explained to me several times, I still don’t remember what a “safety” is.

Do I think my son must grow to like playing or watching sports?  No, of course not.  But I know lots and lots and lots of people do like sports, and I don’t want him to miss out on something he’d really enjoy just because I have no interest in it.  So I have sincere questions for you sports-loving parents out there.

First of all, my son is nearly four.  Kicking the soccer ball around I have down.  I have no idea how one plays football with a kid his age.  Is there a “right” way to play with a football with a preschooler?  Or is that a ridiculous question?  Am I over-thinking things?

And when did you start watching sports as a kid?  Football seems awfully rough to me, and there’s no way I would ever want him to play it himself.  (That’s part of my reluctance, as is my desire not to have him emulate the tackling he sees in real life.)  Did you start watching football with your kids when they were in preschool?

I really have no idea how one introduces sports culture to one’s kid, but I want him to appreciate it and enjoy it if that’s the kind of kid he’s going to be.  And so I’m asking those of you who do appreciate and enjoy sports in a way I never have how you shared them with your own kids (or parents, for that matter).

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. At that age, I think all you need to do is whatever seems fun to him (and ideally you as well). I think there’s a greater danger from pushing the “right” way to play (and thus sucking the joy out of it) than from leading him down the wrong path. If he’s interested, he’ll soon enough be playing with other folks who’re more familiar with the rules and stuff.

    As far as watching football is concerned, my kids had zero interest but it would never have occurred to me to treat that as needing an age restriction. I know I was watching it with my dad and brothers as young as I can remember.

  2. Russell,

    Various thoughts with no particular focus:

    1. I grew up playing all sorts of sports, some of which I now regret (8 years of baseball especially).

    2. If you want to “play” football with your son, play catch. He doesn’t need to know anything more than that right now, and frankly, developing the hand-eye coordination now will be particularly beneficial later in life, whether or not he pursues additional levels of football.

    3. Which, I should also note, I don’t encourage. If there is any chance whatsoever that your son is going to be large, he’s most likely going to end up being stuck on the offensive or defensive lines and those positions are inherently dangerous. I’d encourage soccer as much as possible.

    4. As for watching sports, I remember watching them my whole life, but I grew up in a university town surrounded by competent teams that held my interest; I also had interest in watching the sports I myself was playing. So I’d encourage your son to watch the sports he is interested in. Now, as a parent, I watch them (or did, until I canceled all television as a cost saver) and my kids watched them too if they were interested. But I never sat them down and said, “This is what we’re watching.” It’s always been optional.

    5. Needless to say, I encourage playing soccer, minimizing football, and above all, letting him explore his own interests. If he really wants to do these things, he’ll figure out a way.

    • Ditto 2 and 3 here. Play catch, but steer him toward soccer instead of football if you want him to have a chance of walking without pain when he’s 40. And when you’re teaching him to catch, the secret is that his palms should face each other, not point up to the sky. Playing catch is also a nice relaxing way to play with your kid.

  3. Introducing a kid to sports culture or any culture really needs to come naturally. If it doesn’t then the child won’t pick up your own enthusiasm for it. That means either you won’t be a good gateway since they will feel that you are going through the motions or you will end up doing something none of you enjoys. The best experiences are those where all parties have fun with it. Take him to see other kids playing various sports and see which ones he wants to do. Many kids will want to do all the sports they see, since what they are really attracted to is seeing other kids having fun. Let him pick his sport. He doesn’t need to see sports on tv to get sports culture.

    Lots of TV sports culture is crap; its sycophant reporters, obsessive fans and over focus on highlights. Sports for young kids should be all about fun. Once you tyke gets into a sport you will be inexorable drawn into the culture. I watch a lot of sports on tv but only the actual sport, never any of the other shows. In fact lots of sports work well with the sound down and music or a good podcast for sound.

    You might think about hockey for him in couple of years. Yes i know it is a violent sport at the NHL level but for little kids they can’t skate well enough to do much of anything but be cute. I’m serious go watch a little kids hockey game. It’s a hoot. Where you live there should be plenty of teams.

    • Oh yeah. Skiing, skiing and more skiing. Start this winter. You can’t start them to early on skis. Skiing is a lifetime sport; xc or downhill or both. He can compete if he wants when he is older or just be part of fun social groups if he can xc or downhill ski. In a northern climate you really should have a winter activity and skiing is the best. Most northern communities have ski programs to teach youngsters the basics and often in a fun way. Teach him to ski and he won’t regret it.

    • skiing.

      I know something on this topic, having written about it for winter tourism guides and as a major Maine industry for years.

      Mt. Abram, has what’s called ‘the best teaching terrain on the East Coast.” If we had more reliable powder, possibly the best in the nation. The pitch is perfect for learning, and the ski school is great; I’ve got a lot of friends that teach there.

      Once he starts school, I also recommend checking out the ‘Ski Maine’ program, a great way to try out many different mountains with children relativel inexpensively.

      And Doc, football is a concern to me; I know too many young men who’ve had concussion problems. You’ve got some time, and the culture of football may change, but right now, it’s got some sorting out to do.

  4. I think you’re definitely over-thinking things.
    He was probably more interested in the outfits than the actual game.

    If he wants to play a sport, and you have no interest, he will find a way to play it. Trust me.
    My mom didn’t know a thing about playing guitar. I got pretty good at it.

    This doesn’t translate well, because when I was young, football games were two hours long. These days, they’re three.
    I didn’t really begin to watch football until maybe third grade. By fifth grade, I was watching all the time. But it took until about that time to have an attention span where I could sit through a game. (after several more years I would lose that, but that’s another story . . .)

    I had brothers. When they didn’t want to play football with me, I would go outside and throw the ball up in the air, over a wire or a certain branch, and catch it. For an hour or more at a time.
    He’s a kid. He doesn’t even understand the rules of the game.

    Look at it like this:
    Even if he likes Siegfried and Roy, you don’t have to worry if he won’t be able to perform just because you have no interest in sticking your head into a lion’s mouth.
    If he wants to play like he’s Siegfried and Roy, try starting him off with a pretend lion; maybe work your way up to a stuffed animal.

    If one day, you notice that he seems fascinated by some chance clips of cliff diving on the tube . . .

    . . . and then if he happens to watch a movie of Dr. Frankenstein . . .

    I used to watch Jacques Cousteau on tv all the time.
    And where am I now?

    • He was probably more interested in the outfits than the actual game.

      Just because his dad’s gay…..

  5. I was not a joiner. Team sports were always a pain in the ass, for me, because I had chronic ear infections as a child screwing with my sense of balance, and I was wildly uncoordinated and gawky to begin with.

    Kitty, on the other hand, while she was also not a natural athlete, was just introduced to everything, and played what stuck.

    Now that I’m older, I wish I’d had a bit more encouragement for team sports, so the route we took for both kids was to sign them up for fall soccer when they got old enough to play in the local league, then basketball, then baseball.

    Jack plays all three. He’s not outstandingly good at any of them (he’s a better athlete than either of his parents but he’s far more interested in playing with a gang of kids than he is at practicing anything), but he enjoys them all. Hannah loved the idea of playing soccer, but then didn’t enjoy it at all, she skipped basketball, and she played t-ball and now coach pitch, but there’s always drama about getting her to play the whole game. I think she’s just less naturally inclined to get into the social aspect of the game and she gets more wrapped up in herself than Jack did at that age.

    They won’t do anything over the summer except swimming. Jack will be back in soccer in the fall, and Hannah is now saying she’d rather resume dance lessons than play soccer, which is okay with me.

    Don’t worry about not knowing the game(s). I knew probably about as much about soccer as you do, and if you do organized sports the kids all start at a level where they don’t play with all the rules, anyway, so you learn as they do.

  6. My eldest is 5, and I don’t remember when I introduced watching football to her (though she would have absorbed it from pretty early on). It was two summers ago that I took her to her first football games, and it was before that that I tried to get her to watch (since, if both she and I – and now the youngest – all want to watch football, mom’s outvoted). She has never tried to emulate the tackling – just the running, kicking and throwing (and she also liked playing the cheerleader’s pom poms… please read that in the literal way).

    In terms of playing, Sam’s got it. Play catch. Let him kick it. If he wants to do more than that, you can just sort of play tag, running after each other.

    Regarding playing organized football, I played from 10 – 14 (IIRC). I don’t plan on allowing my girls to play contact football that young, but there are often flag football leagues.

  7. Several thoughts…

    1.) Despite their being leagues for kids as young as 4, don’t bother enrolling him in any. Soccer for young kids is kick-and-chase. Not worth the time or money. Go out in the yard. Kick the ball back and forth. For football, throw it back and forth. When he’s ready (a few years from now) you can show him how to throw a spiral (this gives you time to learn yourself if you must; hint: It’s all in the wrist) and how to properly show for and make a catch. If basketball is his sport, get the little hoops. Don’t even bother with 10-footers until he is three times his current age; all they do is teach kids bad form in the hopes of reaching a too-high basket. I think Fisher Price or some other company makes the big chunky plastic one that is relatively portable. When he’s older, you can get an adjustable one for the driveway that will grow with him.
    2.) As for watching sports, I remember sports being on a lot whenever my dad was around (he worked two jobs so his presence in the house wasn’t high). Add in an older brother and it was regular background noise. But I remember being as young as 6 and waking up early and watching early versions of ESPN’s SportsCenter. How much I understood, I’ll never know… But I remember being interested in watching it from an early age. That it was something I could connect with my dad over (something it remains to this day) made it even better. So, put a game on (maybe tonight!) and judge his interest. He’ll let you know if it holds his attention.

    • hint: It’s all in the wrist
      I beg to differ.
      I remember teaching a young boy to throw a football. He was holding it right in the middle, and you could tell he was putting everything he had into every throw. And every throw came out horrible.
      It’s leverage.
      You hold the ball with the bulk of the weight in the direction of the throw.
      Much less arm strength needed, and a much better pass.

      • Good lord – it’s about the release point. The rest comes with practice.

        • That was the old days, when intentional grounding was a penalty.
          These days, into the sidelines is probably something that they practice.

      • Will H,

        The spiral is in the wrist. Otherwise, yes, the entirety of a football throw lies elsewhere, largely in the shoulder.

        Baseball, on the other hand, is much more in the wrist. But that whole throwing motion is whacked, hence all the injuries.

        • Pitching is whacked, because that kind of hard, overhad throw is completely unnatural. Playing catch with a baseball isn’t going to hurt anyone.

  8. A lot of youth interest in sports is about imagination. I had a hoop outside, but I also had a little Nerf hoop in my bedroom. It attached to the door and you couldn’t dribble the little soft ball. You couldn’t really play-play basketball, except trying to get the ball into the hoop, but you could pretend to play, which was just loads of fun. That probably won’t work at four, though, since the doors are likely to be too high. My point here, though, is to find ways that let him pretend he’s playing, and that could be a good in and of itself.

    Mostly what Kazzy said. Soccer leagues are great at a point, but 4 is too young. Wait until his friends are starting to join leagues. There’s a good chance he will ask about it when his friends are playing, and you can probably wait until then.

    Encourage soccer or basketball over football. I’m hoping that in the coming years there will be an increased interest in safer football leagues. At this point, I am disinclined to forbid football if I have a son, though. I’ll ask a lot of questions about safety in any league that I would let him join. I wouldn’t dream of letting him do it before middle school.

    • My brother and I spent countless hours playing “basketball” with little more than a rolled up sock and opposing archways in our living room. Plenty of injuries, plenty of arguments over whether the “ball” actually went in the “hoop” (an unmarked area at the top of the arch generally understood but never fully defined), but tons of fun. Fortunately, we avoided the “Who would get to be Jordan” fight because he always preferred Bird. But that is another part of the fantasy that sports makes available. It is only in the past couple years that I’ve accepted that there is less than a 50% chance that the Eagles call me up out of the blue to suit up for them after an injury to their starting free safety*; the imagination is strong with this one.

      * Do you really not know what a safety is? If I could play any position in the NFL, it’d be free safety.

      • I assume that last question was for me? Because no, I really have no idea what a safety is. I thought it was a play? No?

        • It is both a penalty that can be called against whatever team has the ball (if the person with the ball is tackled in their OWN endzone) or a free-ranging defensive player who’s smaller and faster than those who start each player closer to the ball. Given that you apparently don’t chafe when you run, my guess is you’re built more like a safety than almost any other position on the field.

          Also, this conversation is adorbs.

          • I don’t think he has the mentality to play safety. He could be a wide receiver though.

          • I’m not sure that a safety is categorized as a “penalty” it’s a scoring play, just not one by the offense.

            I’m guessing he’s built most like a kicker.

          • One thing I’ve wondered about safeties (as a penalty): If someone intercepts a ball while in their own endzone, and then is tackled in that endzone, is that a safety?

          • Yeah, touchback. Any reception that occurs in the opposite endzone, including an interception, a fumble, or a kick return, going down in the endzone gets you a touchback and puts you out at the 20 yard line.

            If you intercept a ball in the endzone, it’s usually better to take a knee then to try to take it out (because you’re liable to get stuffed at the one yard line. The same is often true for kicks, though since kick recoveries are usually received with the defenders farther away, it’s sometimes more likely to be the case that it’s best to run it out.

          • And if the player intercepts it at, say, the 2-yard line but his momentum carries him into the end zone where he’s immediately tackled, then his team takes possession at the 2-yard line. But if he intercepts the ball at the 2 and starts to run with it, then runs into the end zone attempting to avoid a tackle, and is then tackled in the end zone, that’s a safety.

          • The touchback/safety thing confounds me utterly every time someone has tried to explain it to me in such a manner as to help me retain the information.

            And sad as it may be, the football player whose body type I fit best really probably would be a kicker.

          • Right, though if he ends up in the endzone because he got pummeled and fell back into it, then he gets the ball at the two because that, like catching it while falling backwards, is neither a touchback nor a safety.

            How can anybody find this confusing?

          • In a nutshell, if the team’s possession starts inside their end zone and the player is downed, it’s a touchback. If the team’s possession starts outside their end zone and is brought into the end zone and the player is downed, it’s a safety.

            The nutshell starts to overflow at the point that you figure in the rules about possession and momentum and forward progress and so forth.

            Y’know, it’s just sad that I’m wasting so many valuable brain cells on this stuff. I wish there were a way to wipe all the internal storage devoted to sports arcana and reuse it for more immediately useful knowledge, like where I left my car keys.

      • Kazzy, don’t forget that a safety is also a type of scoring play. This adds to a lot of people’s confusion.

        Eventually, I’ll teach him what a rouge is.

      • My brother and I discovered that the distance between the wall and the inside of the curtain rod above the sliding door in the family room was just a bit wider than the diameter of a tennis ball. So naturally we started playing one-on-one “basketball” there (when Mom was out running errands). Most shots other than a slam dunk were very low percentage.

        Also during Mom’s absence, we played indoor over-the-line baseball in the long entryway that ran through the living room, using a ping-pong ball and paddle (we started with a badminton racket but that generated too many homers).

        And later we played “box football” in the backyard, using a cardboard box resting on a slope as the receiver and with essentially “over-the-line” rules for yardage.

        FWIW, neither of my parents taught me squat about how to play any of the major sports — my dad taught me badminton and tennis, but for the “big three” sports, my knowledge came from siblings and friends.

        • In middle school, where we didn’t have an outdoor basketball hoop but we did have a lot of basketball-crazed youth (a predominantly African-American school in a relatively urban area), we played a game wherein the “defender” stood under a door awning and the “offensive” player was tasked with run, jumping, and slapping five with the awning. The defender had to stop him, but could not do so using his body, having to basically time his jump and high five the player mid-air to stop his progress.

          This game was played for hours, with certain rivalries emerging. It was the closest thing we had and, goddamnit, we were going to do it.

          • It’s amazing how creative kids can be when they don’t have everything they want right in front of them. There’s a good argument in there for some strategic neglect.

          • Yea… strategic… that’s what my parents were doing…

      • Wait till you get exposed to the lingo for rugby. (which, apparently, is what lotsa kids – well, teens – are switching to these days because it’s less concussion-y than the debil’s foozball.)

      • My brother and I spent countless hours playing “basketball” with little more than a rolled up sock and opposing archways in our living room

        Yes! My brother and I used a nerf ball, but the opposing archways is exactly what we used for baskets. That is so awesome to know you did the same. We were lucky, too, in that our house had 9 foot ceilings.

  9. One other piece of advice dawns on me: do not, under any circumstances, allow your son (or daughter) to ever play for the sort of youth coach that looks at Bobby Knight and thinks, “He had some good ideas, but he wasn’t intense enough.” Those idiots are out there and everywhere, thoroughly convinced that the only way to coach is to scream bloody murder; I’d like to punch each of those idiots in the dick for what they do to the kids that play for them and the sports they claim to love.

    • Going a step further, if he wants to play sports at Rutgers, just say no.

    • Whatever my reservations about my ignorance of sports may be (and I hope everyone saw Tod’s wonderful post on the topic of sports parents and coaches several days ago?), I have very little doubt that I will personally rip the throat out of any coach who thinks he can bully my kid.

      • Here’s a fun story: when I was 10, my first year in local A Ball (10-12), I played for a local legend in youth baseball coaching. I was one of several players that he’d “drafted” and he made a point of letting us all know what an honor it was to play for him. Then, he spent the entire season degrading the hell out of me, letting me know precisely how awful I was at baseball, despite me doing things like taking a cast off of a broken hand to play in the season’s first game. We won the City Championship – something that was supposed to make all of this worth it – and when I went to sign up the next year, the parents who oversaw sign-ups said enthusiastically, “So you’ll be back with DICKHEAD again huh? You ready to win?” and I said, “Put me on any other team. I’m not playing for him.” They told me that nobody had ever quit on DICKHEAD before.

        A few days later, DICKHEAD calls, screaming at me over the phone for quitting on him and then, during my new team’s first game against DICKHEAD’s, I get drilled with the first pitch I see. DICKHEAD’s son was pitching. I doubt there was any mistake.

        We went 5-20 that season. I had more fun playing for that team than I did winning a city championship. Needless to say, I regret nothing, except having played baseball at all, because seriously, f-ck baseball, now and forever.

      • “…I have very little doubt that I will personally rip the throat out of any coach who thinks he can bully my kid.”

        Maybe you CAN be a safety!

          • The ball is your child. That bastard has stolen your baby and is running away with him. That’s how you play safety.

    • Thankfully, we have not had this problem ourselves. Until this age bracket (8-9) came up, we haven’t even had anything other than awesome coaches (both for our teams, and opposing).

      The idiot parents and their associated coaches of horror seem to onset about that time among my friends and relations’ experiences (mostly California, your mileage may very in other states).

  10. 1. For the most part, as everyone above says, just playing catch is mostly all you need to do for football.

    2. Since he’s already shown a strong interest in soccer, you may want to take him to a soccer game to see how much he’s interested in learning how to play (as opposed to just enjoying the act of kicking a ball around). While the caliber of play is not what it is in Europe, MLS (the American pro soccer league) is about the most family friendly professional sports environment imaginable (oddly, European soccer leagues are amongst the least family friendly environment imaginable), and we always have a blast at the games we go to with our daughter. For what it’s worth, baseball games are also quite a bit of fun for kids, whether major league or minor league, with minor league games having the added benefit of being dirt cheap.

    3. If he enjoys watching it and learning about it, you may want to sign him up for a soccer clinic (as opposed to a league, with respect to which I agree with everyone that 4 is too young). My daughter took soccer lessons once a week for a few months in her school a little before her 4th birthday, and then she also did a clinic a little before her 5th birthday, and definitely had fun with it. But make sure that it’s a clinic that markets itself as being fun and/or instructive for kids, not a clinic that markets itself as creating the all stars of tomorrow.

    4. If he’s interested in watching football, let him watch it on TV. But do not make my mistake and try to take him to an actual football, particularly not a pro football game, until he’s at least 9 or 10, and probably a little older than that for pro football. As family friendly as MLS is, the NFL is the opposite. It’s extraordinarily loud, the size of the stadiums and number of people around is overwhelming for a kid, and even if you’re sitting in the family section (as we wisely did), the level of testosterone-infused drunkenness will leave you feeling like you have to spend the whole game covering your kid’s ears. I realize Jonathan had a more pleasant experience with kids at football games, but Canada.

    • You could go to a small college football game. My alma mater, BC, is relatively tame. The student section is small and easily avoided, and most of them pass out before making it to the game. The stadium is relatively small and they do some cool “fan fest” things for kids. Their is no booze for sale inside the stadium and if you take the T, you can carve a walking path to the stadium that largely avoids the tailgaters. BC stinks, but they do draw quality ACC opponents… not that that’d matter to him.

      • 1. You went to BC? Did I know this? Have I booed you from afar for this? Because I will. Just let me know when you’ll be available and I will boo you half to death.

        2. “Quality ACC opponents” is a delightful turn of phrase when referencing ACC Football.

        • I don’t know if you knew it, but I did indeed. I don’t hold much particular affection, which is why you might not have heard me talk about it and why your booing will be largely ineffective. Do tell, what is your beef with the Eagles?

          • What ISN’T my beef with the Boston College Eagles?

            1. Let’s start with growing up a WVU fan and putting up with obnoxious Boston College fans coming to my town and condescending like hell to everybody around them. Among my finest moments as a sports fan was sitting behind four guys from BC and cat-calling them with “Doug Flutie isn’t coming through that door! Tom Coughlin isn’t coming through that door!” after a beatdown in the late 1990s.

            2. The general attitude of the ACC in general when it comes to WVU certainly doesn’t help things.

            3. Going to UMass and realizing that Boston College supporters weren’t being specific in their dickery toward the state school of my youth; apparently anybody that went to any state school was worthy of their derision.

            There’s more, although what’s stated is certainly sufficient.

          • I misread that at first as “Doug Flutie comes in the cat door”. Which would have been a cool insult.

    • I think he’s probably old enough to start training for MMA.

    • Regarding Mark’s #4, I tried to take the eldest to a University of Ottawa game. As we approached the gates, she got too upset because it was so loud (and it was surprisingly loud). Later, I would take her to junior football games, and she loved it.

  11. So, asked my wife about your question. Though she would know how to answer, and she is a PE teacher.

    Quoting her:

    At this early age, the kid probably does not have a complete understanding in what she calls ‘rules of the game’. He is starting to understand that every game in life has their own sets of rules, like getting to bring a football home was a game, and he had to obey a certain set of rules for it to happen, and in time he will come to understand that every ‘play’ has its own rules.

    But for now, it will be difficult to understand complex rules. So, you should start it really simple – he must pick up the ball and run across the field – that is the whole game for him. Or he must kick the soccer ball. No matter where, just kick it. In a while, he will start to want more complexity – kicking between your shoes, over the TV, and so on.

    But the point is – have a bit of fun.

    As far as watching, she says that there are two common ways that things happen – he will either see a game and start associate that thats what he is doing and try to copy it – playing like the players do, or you can show it to him sometimes – ‘look at what you are doing, you are doing like that guy on the tv’. But in one case or another it is imitation.

    She also says he is probably a bit too young to be taken to a game – watching games is very boring for young kids. Once he starts showing interest in watching games though, then it could be a very nice experience, but keep in mind that you will probably still leave halfway through because kids do have shorter attention spans.

  12. I don’t know that there is a “right time” to introduce your kid to football. Best to let it unfold naturally, I think. He’ll get to it when he gets to it, and he may well choose to never play. He has all the time in the world.

    You are, however, about two years behind schedule getting him ramped up on watching, playing and analyzing basketball.

  13. honestly i’ll be surprised if there’s much football left by the time he gets to an age where you actually play the game. (pop warner is hilarious but not really football)

    • sorry forgot to add: just have fun. my father never played football, but rather baseball. i hated baseball and was terrible at it. i turned out to be good enough to get offered some small school scholarships in football. such is life.

  14. Thank you so much to everyone for all the genuinely helpful, insightful thoughts and advice. Conversations like this one (about sports, no less!) are why I love this place.

  15. I have the athletic ability of a rocking chair, but I am a dyed-in-the-wool St. Louis Cardinals fan. My parents took us to countless Cardinals games, and my brother played little league baseball. My advice is, when the Critter is old enough to sit through a game, take him to some professional baseball games to stimulate his interest. I don’t blame you for steering him away from football; I think it’s dangerous.

  16. I was basically watching football, baseball, and basketball from infancy. Like Sam, I started playing organized sports at a young age: soccer at 4, tee ball at 5, basketball at 6, and tennis at either 7 or 8. I played soccer and basketball in junior high, soccer and basketball and one year of baseball (because an injury made running miles difficult, but running 90 feet easy) in high school. Also like Sam, I now regret some of it: bad knees, chronic back pain from a really bad basketball injury (cracked ribs and a torn muscle), a crooked arm (not so you’d notice unless you looked closely) that will need surgery at some point because a nerve in my elbow is exposed, and aches and pains where I broke other things.

    So, umm… soccer and tennis are cool. The great thing about soccer is that it gives a kid the conditioning and footwork that he or she will need for just about any other sport, in addition to being really fun to play. Plus, until the higher grades, it’s not particularly rough.

    My son played baseball and soccer in elementary school, but never really got into either. Never had any injuries, either. He’s just now getting into basketball, football, and hockey (eww) as a spectator (he’s 15).

    • hockey (eww)

      You need to go to a game with me.

      • I don’t know if it’s still like this, but when I was at UK, they only had a club hockey team. There was no rink on campus, or anywhere near campus. They had to play their games across town on a rec rink. Even that cost more money than they could possibly have pulled in conventionally, so they went unconventional. All of their games were at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, and because it was so small, the spectators were pretty much sitting on the ice. They also promoted the games by making schedule posters that featured celebrity Kentucky alumni wearing nothing but a hockey jersey (the first, and most famous, features Ashley Judd). I used to go to the games religiously, despite at that point not having seen a hockey game since I was a young child and Nashville had a team called the South Stars with the greatest logo in sports history. The games were a blast: everyone drunk, everyone was loud, and if an opposing player was checked against the glass, everyone ran down to the glass and yelled in his face. Afterwards, we’d all go to Waffle House. Good times, though I couldn’t tell you if Kentucky won any of those games.

  17. Probably my best advice is to let the kid try a little bit of every sport and see which ones he excels naturally at and holds his interest.

  18. I like the strategy of letting them play whatever sport they are interested in when they are young and then as they get a bit older try to steer them towards the sports they are best at so they can develop some real skills. Our girls were a bit ADD when it came to sports and I wish we had tried to get them to focus a bit more on one or two they showed promise in. I was never a star athlete but I was good enough at baseball to take some real enjoyment from it for many years and even now I still like playing when I get a chance.

    As for approaching sports as a fan, pick a couple of teams you can support as a family and enjoy the heck out of them. Everyone in our house is a Louisville fan and we also root for my high school alma mater as a family. Tailgating and enjoying them on TV together is…a..BLAST.

  19. At the age of four, two skills really can be developed: hand-eye coordination and foot-eye coordination. If there’s a handy wall around, Critter could do worse than throw (or kick) a ball against it and retrieve his own catches.

    May I add, encourage him to play with other children his age. The true benefit of sport is perceiving yourself as part of a team. More important than eye-hand coordination, team-effort coordination is what separates winners from losers. When picking out teams, the tall ones and the fast ones get picked first. If this seems unfair, it’s also inevitable. But the next round of picks are the kids with good coordination and social skills. The last kids picked lack those skills.

    Steer your kid clear of American football. Just don’t let him around it until well into high school. They should rename the Greenstick Fracture the Football Parent Fracture.

    I didn’t encounter American football until after I’d returned from Africa. It’s easier to contemplate the game if you think of the two opposing teams as four teams: each side with an offensive and a defensive team.

    It’s really just a stylised chess game: each player has a role. The offensive team is essentially an infantry squad: ten men and a lieutenant, the quarterback. As in infantry, the object is to gain ground. As in infantry, each team closely watches the other team’s strategy and plans accordingly, for each team has strengths and weaknesses. Watching a football game on television will not inform you of much: the All-22 Shot (showing all the players and therefore the strategy of the complete play) is never shown.

    The most productive play, as in infantry tactics, is a flanking move. After four attempts, as in infantry, the squad’s initiative will be exhausted. All else follows from there.

  20. I’d be interested to know what he thought the football players were doing. Did he see a bunch of people playing together or did he understand that this was sports?

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