Parents who put their children into organized sports before the age of 8 should have low expectations for their kids' ability to play as a coordinated team, says a UC Davis child psychologist who studies children's social interactions and how they play.
"Many children don't pay attention to what other kids are thinking until they are 7 or 8 or even older," says Lawrence Harper, professor of human development and family studies.
Harper says these young children are still developing an understanding about how individuals coordinate actions.
"Just doing something with another kid seems to be the focus up to this age. To ask them to go beyond that focus to some pre-specified end within a fairly elaborate rules system is asking an awful lot," Harper says.
He suggests both parents and coaches with kids in team sports like soccer and T-ball keep their expectations realistic.
"If the kid is into it, that's great," Harper says, acknowledging that many children are drawn to organized sports at a young age.
He suggests parents realize that when their children play games like dodge ball or tag with simple rules and concepts they are getting ready for more complex activities.
Harper studies comparative and developmental psychology, sex differences and play, and settings and early social behavior.