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.
Introducing your child to sports is a wonderful way to teach them important life lessons, like how to work in a team, how to handle disappointment, and how to commit to something. Sports also improve physical skills such as balance and coordination.
If you’re considering signing your child up for sporting activities, here are a few things you may want to consider:
The right age for your child to start sports
If a child is emotionally and physically ready to participate in a group sport, there is no reason to hold them back. But it’s important to select the right programme, or you may risk putting them off sport for good. Sebastijan Ribic of Football Academy Plus 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.”
Have realistic expectations
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 classroom, 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 takes your child entirely off your hands for three hours on the weekend and keeps 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.”
How to choose the right 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 to 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.”