One of the great joys of parenthood is watching your child play a sport. You sit in the stands and cheer their every move and revel in their joy of the game. Naturally, you want to preserve these moments. Freeze time for just a second, so that years from now you can look back and smile. So how does one shoot sports photography? Let's start with the equipment.
I recommend that you use a DSLR camera. In a nutshell a DSLR camera has the best autofocus and speed, the ability to use different lenses and a viewfinder. There are plenty of choices to choose from but all you really need is a 24mm APS-C camera. Entry level cameras like the Nikon D5500 or the Canon Rebel T6i are excellent choices. If you want to step up in class, the new Nikon D7200 or the Canon 7D II are good choices which offer better autofocus and speed then the entry level camera but cost significantly more. Some of you might be wondering about full frame 35mm cameras. There a lot of people (especially sales people) who will try to sell you on the "advantages" a full frame camera. But the truth is any advantage a full frame sensor may or may not have is not worth the extra cost. The APS-C 24mm camera is more camera then you'll need.
The best lens for you camera is an 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 all in one zoom. Nikon makes a version of this lens, Canon has an 18-200mm version, Sigma and Tamron also make an 18-300mm version of this lens for, Nikon, Canon, and Sonly Alpha lens mount. The reason I recommend this lens is that it, in my opinion, gives you the best bang for your buck. It's a versitile all around len, that allows you to shoot wide angle to telephoto zoom and everything in between without changing the lens. It can be used for sports or any other family functions, vacations, birthdays, recitals, etc. You want to able use your camera for more than sports. When purchasing this lens make sure you get the latest model which has optical image stabilization, if it doesn't have image stabilization it's the older model. Also make sure you purchase the lens made for APS-C cameras. There are full frame variants of this lens, so don't get confused. Speaking of full frame lenses, if you have an APS-C camera, make sure you buy lenses made for that sensor size. There is no need to buy full frame lenses for a 24mm sensor, it just wastes your money.
A few tips for shooting outdoor sports photography. First you need to set your autofocus, on the Canon you should set the autofocus to the AI servo mode, on the Nikon, Pentax, and Sony you should use either AF-C or AF-A. These autofocus modes help you track moving objects, when you focus. Next you should set your mode dial, to S if you are using a Nikon or Sony, or Tv if you are using a Pentax or Canon. This is shutter priority mode on your camera. The general rule in photography is that you use a shutter speed that is equal to the long end of your zoom to shoot hand held. So that means with an 18-300mm lens you need a minimum shutter speed of 1/300 of a second to prevent blurring. This rule applies even with the image stabilization in your lens. So make sure you set your shutter speed to 500. This is a nice general speed that will freeze action and make sure there is no blur. Remember 1/500 of a second is a starting point. Dependent on where you are shooting you make need to adjust your ISO, so that you can shoot this speed. If you are outdoors and it's cloudy or overcast set your ISO to either 3200 or 6400. You might also need to drop the shutter speed 320. Understand that at higher ISO you will increase the noise(the grain like objects in your photo). Experiment with your camera to see what noise level you are comfortable with. Noise can also be reduced in a program like Lightroom or photoshop elements.
Shooting indoor sports photography is a lot trickier. Dependent on where you're photographing your child, there may not be enough light to shoot clear pictures. So to start you should increase your ISO to either 3200 or 6400. Once again set your autofocus either to AI servo for Canon or AF-C or AF-A for Nikon, Pentax, or Sony. You should set your mode dial to A. This is aperture priority mode. In this mode you set your aperture to the widest setting, so for the the 18-300mm you would set it to 6.3. You may also need to adjust your white balance for either tungsten or fluorescent. Make sure your optical image stabilization is on, as this will help shoot hand held at a slower shutter speed, also I found keeping your elbows close to your body helps keep your camera steady when shooting with a telephoto lens. Lastly turn off your pop up flash. In most indoor settings you are too far away for the flash to be effective. The ultimate problem with shooting this way is your shutter speed may be to slow to freeze the action so you may get lots of blur. What about an f/2.8 lens you say? Unfortunately, no one makes an APS-C f/2.8 telephoto except for pentax. So your only option is a full frame 70-200mm f/2.8. As stated earlier I don't think using a full frame is worth it. Plus having a f/2.8 is helpful but it is no guarantee that you'll be able to freeze the action. Ultimately you must decide, if spending a minimum of $1200 on a lens is worth shooting a few shots indoors. In my opinion unless you're getting paid, the lens is not worth it. I've also been asked about monopods and this is a tricky subject as well. A lot of venues don't allow spectators to bring monopods or use them for safety reasons. Because of this I would say that you should not use a monopod indoors. So my advice is try the steps here and see how your photos look. If you can't capture the action try shooting when things are relativley still. For example, if your child is preparing to shoot a free throw in basketball or team mates high fiving on a volleyball court. Capture the emotion of the game. See if you can capture your child celebrating a good play or talking with his/her coach. If all else fails, try video taping the game. All DSLR cameras have video capability so take advantage of it. Make sure you set your mode dial to P and start filming. Having video is not a perfect solution but it's better then nothing.
Some final thoughts for you about sports photography. Always try to capture the ball in frame to give context to your picture. Anticipate the action. For example, if you child is on first base and you think the steal sign is given get ready to capture the action at second base. Don't ignore the quiet moments, like your child sitting on the bench with their friends, warm up drills, or waiting in the on deck circle for their turn at bat. Be mindful of your surroundings. Balls and pucks have a strange way of always finding the person holding the camera, so pay attention. Don't get to close to the field of play, you don't want to become part of the action. Lastly enjoy your child's sport moment and have fun.