The benefits of sport for children may seem obvious, but the science of sport is more complicated than it seems. For children, involvement in physical activity when they’re young can affect their whole lives. If you’ve ever caught yourself wishing your parents had enrolled you in ballet lessons so that you can now touch your toes in yoga class, you know what we’re talking about.
No matter what activity your child is involved in, the important thing is that she’s active. Starting your child in a sport from an early age is vital.
Benefits of sports
The rate of child obesity is growing throughout the world, so teaching kids about exercise and living a healthy lifestyle is a priority and is something that should stay with them throughout their lives. Fine motor skills (those that help you write and cut out with scissors) and gross motor skills (e.g. catching a ball) can be developed through sport.
Children have to cope with new sensory input on a daily basis. In this regard, sport helps in three ways:
- Firstly, it teaches a child discipline – how to work to achieve success, which affects other aspects of her life. It’s been said that children who play sport are more likely to succeed at school.
- Secondly, it builds self-esteem. When a child plays sport, she receives praise and encouragement from her parents, her coach and other children. It also teaches him how to lose with grace. A lot of parents worry whether their child’s confidence will take a knock if she loses, when in fact losing is something that all children should experience as it teaches them humility and allows them to appreciate it more when they win.
- Thirdly, sport develops social skills in children. Usually a child learns to socialise with her classmates and family members only. Sport introduces her to new people, of different ages and backgrounds, and this improves their social skills and reduces shyness.
ALSO SEE: How to develop your child’s social skills
Which sport is right for your child?
As much as you may want your daughter to be an Olympic gymnast, or your son to play for the Springboks, they’ll probably have different ideas – and talents – as they get older. What’s important is to let them start in a sport and see how their ability and personal preferences develop.
There are many sports that preschoolers can participate in. These are great for developing motor skills and to introduce them to the concept of exercise. Then there are sports that you can encourage them to stay with as they get older.
It’s important to determine what sport will cost, and whether you can afford it, keeping in mind the cost of sports clothing, equipment and tours. Even if your child is starting at a young age, you’ll need to think about the future
if your child decides to stay in the sport.
Remember, you don’t have to choose the most popular or the most well-known sport.
When to start: Children should start judo at age four to six when they need to improve their basic range of motion, flexibility and the ABCs of athleticism, i.e. agility, balance and coordination. This will be done through general exercises and judo-related games. At this age they learn fundamental movement skills before sport-specific skills are introduced. These skills are introduced in a fun, positive, largely games-based way through which they learn basic judo movements and throws with the emphasis on holding skills.
Mind benefits: Through interactive and competitive games, judo develops confidence, concentration and the ability to handle pressure. This confidence and self-control improves later on as the sport moves into competition and self-defence mode.
Costs: Parents will be charged monthly or per term. This ranges from coach to coach. Parents must also purchase a license and register their child with Judo South Africa.
When to start: Swimming is a life skill. It shouldn’t be seen as introducing your child to swimming as a sport but rather as re-introducing your child to the water medium that she spent the first nine months of her life in. Children grow to fear water the longer they’re kept away from it. It’s commonly found that parents scare children to keep them away from water and safe from drowning.
Physical benefits: Babies, toddlers and young children (as with adults) exercise more muscles in the water as they’re less restricted by gravity.
This improves their muscle tone as well as their ability to sit, stand and walk. Water also helps to improve a child’s coordination and balance.
Cost: Before joining a swimming school, parents need to ascertain whether the instructors are well trained and accredited. A parent can pay between R380 and R480 per month for lessons twice a week, depending on the swim school.
When to start: Soccer can be played by both boys and girls from the age of five or six years.
Physical and mental benefits: Soccer improves health, fitness and mental strength. It teaches kids focus and confidence, and how to interact with other kids.
Cost: Parents will have to provide soccer boots. If a child joins a football club, the club will charge a subscription fee. Most clubs provide the soccer kit and coaching and they enter the teams into leagues.
Soccer teaches children discipline and it builds confidence while they have fun. Since soccer is the biggest sport in South Africa and the world, there’ll be more opportunities.
When to start: Gymnastics can be introduced from the age of three or four. The SAGF offers preschool-specific programmes at gymnastics clubs and preschools. From about the age of six or seven, children can start entering fun competitions.
Physical benefits: Gymnastics provides all the dominant movement patterns required in other sports. Besides affecting kids’ physical wellbeing, it provides an understanding of how their bodies work and their spatial relationships within the world around them. Gymnastics is great for kids who have low muscle tone, are “clumsy” or need to get rid of excess energy.
Mental benefits: Parents will notice an increase in their child’s concentration and self-confidence. Kids learn time-management skills, discipline and determination while learning to set goals and cope with failure. Gymnastics is of great benefit to children who have difficulties crossing the midline, as both the left and right sides of the body (and the brain) are constantly involved in activities.
Cost: For the first few years, only leotards are needed. Later on, grips and chalk are required. The cost of classes will depend on how many times a week and for how long your little one trains.
Gymnastics is an aesthetically beautiful sport with many disciplines and levels. It aids in high physical development, which is the cornerstone of any other sport, if one retires from gymnastics.
*This article was originally published in the May 2011 issue of Living & Loving
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.