What’s not to love about sport? With it comes the chance to get outdoors, have a fun time with friends, do your best, feel the adrenaline rush and experience the boost to your body and mind. That’s the case for all of us, from toddler to senior league!
Guidelines recommend that preschool children who can walk on their own are physically active for three hours a day, and enrolling them in a sports club – football, tennis, swimming, judo, hockey, etc – is a great way of achieving that goal. There’s no doubt that physical activity in early childhood can greatly enhance a young child’s growth and development and lead to a healthy body in adulthood, being associated with correct body posture, stronger bones and muscles, and better cardiovascular and respiratory function. It also kick-starts healthy habits that can last a lifetime (studies show that children with higher levels of physical activity in early life are more likely to remain active throughout their lives) and considerably reduces the risks of a child developing obesity, or diabetes and heart disease later in life.
What’s more, did you know that organised sports for pre-schoolers can promote psychological well-being, cognitive development (concentration), social skills and emotional maturity? Here’s how:
Sports allow children to see the importance of teamwork. There’s no “I” in team, as they say! No one scores a goal unless everyone works together. Even toddlers work out each other’s strengths and weaknesses and soon learn the advantages of coming up with the best plan for the team.
Children learn to respect rules, as there may be penalties for bad behaviour. They also realise they have to listen to the coach or team captain and take instruction. A sense of fairness can develop, and children may respect someone not always in their team. All are lessons that will be of use when they start school and in later life.
Sports develop self-esteem. A compliment, a cheer, a clap, even a simple nod of approval from a teammate or coach all build confidence.
Sports promote good communication skills. They put young children in situations where they must express themselves and because they are developing greater self-esteem, children more likely to communicate confidently.
Children form and learn how to maintain strong relationships. Sports encourage a sense of belonging. A child meets people from all walks of life and learns how to socialise with them all.
Children learn how to accept disappointment. A lost game does not need to be something to cry about, the game can still have been good fun. What's important is trying again.
Sports can teach children leadership skills. They see that a leader isn’t always the person who is best at something. It might be someone who is a role model.
Can’t get to an organised club? No need for panic – informal activity can easily be worked into a young child’s everyday life:
Create active games between siblings, with friends or with yourself. Tag is always a good one, also musical bumps, musical statues, ping pong ball catch, crossing the room in as many different ways as you can – rolling, skipping, hopping, crawling, backwards, etc.
Create an obstacle course in the garden or in the house – jumping over cushions, wriggling under blankets, zig-zagging between rolled up socks laid on the grass, jumping into hoops, running with rice bags on heads, walking on a string line on the floor.
Try regularly throwing or kicking a ball with your child to identify any natural skill!
When watching television, get everyone busy during the adverts! We're talking star jumps, marching on the spot, squats, high kicks...
Turn the music up and dance wildly together.
Hold some old-fashioned races: egg and spoon, bean bag, hopping, tricycle. You might even win!
Above all, let your child see you enjoying physical activity and sport, and they'll want some of the same for themselves!