Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 10:46 am
Organised sports can help children grow in many ways, including the ability to work in a team and improved physical skills such as balance and coordination, and these days toddlers can sign up for activities ranging from yoga to fencing. But before signing up a small child for sports, parents should consider their personality and developmental level to ensure that the experience is positive for everyone.
When is the best time to introduce sports?
“If a child is emotionally and physically ready to participate in group sport, there is no reason to hold them back,” says Sebastijan Ribic, of Football Academy Plus. “But it’s important to select the right program, or you may risk putting them off sport for good.”
Ribic says that children only start developing appropriate skills and attention span at age 6 or 7. “Toddlers can throw, kick and run, but it takes some time to coordinate those skills and to grasp concepts like “taking turns”. Before they start going to school, the goal should be to have fun and be active, without pressuring them to perform or compete. At that age, parents should look for a club or league that emphasises fun, teamwork and basic skills.”
An informal outside sports club can be less intimidating than the ones in school, because it’s less competitive and open to children of all ages, sizes and abilities. “Because these clubs focus on participation and teamwork, rather than progressing to the final, children are given a safe space to develop their skills and gain confidence,” Ribic explains. “It will also help pre-schoolers develop social skills before joining a class room, because they learn to work together in a team and have to listen to the coach and obey the rules of the game.”
Ribic also advises that parents consider their own needs. “It’s important to be realistic about how involved you (and your child) can be in a sports club. If the club expects parents to organise everything from coaching to team snacks and transportation, three afternoons a week, you may struggle to balance all your commitments. If you need a club that take your child entirely off your hands for three hours on the weekend and keep them entertained and safe without your involvement, be honest about that. If you are running yourself ragged, the experience becomes unpleasant for everyone involved, rather than positive and affirming.”
Choosing a sport
Because children of this age group require special attention and skills, Ribic says that individual attention is crucial. “Speak to the coaches beforehand to determine whether it will be a good fit for your child. If children are simply stuck on a field kicking the ball around without instruction, they are going to get bored. Likewise, if they are expected and are pressured to perform beyond their abilities, they will get fearful. Make sure that the club caters for all skill levels and ages.”
The key is that children should have fun and learn from the experience. “At that age, kids don’t have an appreciation for the benefits of building a skill or even being good at something. They are hard-wired to learn through play. Make sure that the activity allows kids to burn off energy and develop athletic skills, without making it seem like a chore,” Ribic advises. “Sport gives kids the opportunity to start living a healthy and active life at a young age – and it’s important that their first experience with organised sport is a positive one.”