With regards to sports, there is a common misconception that if a child does not start very early, they will never excel at a sport. But younger doesn’t always mean better – the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, didn’t start swimming until he was 7 years old. So the key is to get them started at some point, but you need to do so in a way that arouses their interest and enthusiasm.
There are so many options out there, so how do you decide on the right sport and judge when they are ready to choose one for themselves? The best approach is to look for age-appropriate sports. This means that the youngest children are only beginning to develop their motor skills, so a toddler will not be able to do the same things that a 10-year-old can.
Here are some suggestions for different age groups to effectively introduce your child to sports:
At this very early stage in their development, children are best encouraged towards play-based learning. Through play, toddlers undergo physical development alongside making progress with their intellect, emotions and social skills.
A sports environment equipped for tennis or Football activities can be adapted to accommodate the needs of younger participants. They will be in a safe, fun environment where they can experience activities related to these sports like kicking balls or swinging a tennis racket. There will be benefits to their motor skills, confidence and more, and they will get a very early introduction to these sports.
Pre-schoolers at this stage will have developed a lot of simple movements so will be readily equipped to tackle more aspects in general Football or Tennis activities. Don’t be alarmed if your child does not excel at this age – this does not correlate with their future in sports.
Toddlers at this stage are ready to take part in more structured play activities like running, jumping or playing with a ball. A 3- or 4-year-old may begin to take an interest in a specific sport, and this can be encouraged. Just make sure they do not strain themselves in any way that could lead to injury or exhaustion.
Your child is now beginning to get older and develop more vision, strength, balance, coordination and intellect. Their attention span for things like group instruction will be vastly improved, so they may be ready for an introduction to team sports are perfect at this time. Be aware that there are advantages and disadvantages to both team and individual sports, so one is not better than the other. Let your child’s preference be your guide.
Sports for this age should focus on more advanced motor skills, so they could try things like Football, Tennis, Rugby or one of our Multi-Sports Camps. There are also sports that can be modified to simplify the rules like rounders, hand-ball, dodgeball and cricket, all of which are included in our Multi-Sports classes.
However, Try not to push any competitiveness onto your child at this stage as this can put them off. Different children grow and develop at different rates.
Any formal training or coaching should focus on technique and movements. Athletic training should not be pushed too hard as placing too much strain on the body can be damaging in the long run.
Your child is now ready to engage in more challenging sports like competitive football, rugby or Tennis. Their cognitive ability can accommodate things like strategy, decision-making and teamwork. They will likely be developing an interest in a specific sport by this stage, but limiting them to a single sport can inhibit their development and prevent them from discovering new skills.
Allow them to explore and don’t feel too much pressure that they should always be doing something.
The bottom line
Before you involve your child in any sport, consider the following factors:
- Physical ability
Focus on encouraging them and empathising with their efforts at every stage. Emphasise the importance of learning and improving. No matter what sport they take up, they are taking a big step towards growing to be fit and healthy. They are also embarking on a journey that could lead to a positive lifestyle that promotes health and happiness.