Introducing sports for kids is a simple way to give them regular physical activity and to get them outside. It provides great health, educational, social, and psychological benefits. And which sport you choose can impact for you child in different ways.
I was very active as a child and eager to try everything. Sports was good way for me to fit in better in school and my parents were very supportive of my choices. To this day I continued to stay physically fit. With my positive experience, I believe it’s worthwhile to start slowly encouraging sports with my toddler, to gauge his interest.
Through the extensive research I’ve done on the topic along with my own personal experience, I wanted to share my thoughts on what your child can gain from participating in sports.
The Benefits of Sports For Kids
The most obvious benefit from sports is the improvement of your physical health. Exercise is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to stay healthy. And sports can give your child a regular dose of it in an enjoyable way.
Kids are at the stage where their bodies are growing and developing at a rapid pace. And through sports, they can improve their strength, stamina, coordination, balance, vision, and metabolism. They are less likely to be overweight and more likely to maintain a healthier fitness level throughout their lives. Research shows that kids who play sports tend to maintain their active behaviour as adults.
Playing sports teaches your kids lifelong skills that will help them in school and beyond. Depending on the sport, they can learn about team work, leadership, work ethic, problem solving, strategies, and time management. Engaging them in healthy competition is a great way to challenge your kids to push their boundaries within these skills and more.
They also learn how to accept defeat at times. There are valuable lessons in failure and a good father would support when there are setbacks and reassure them that it’s ok. And hopefully they can master the concept of sportsmanship and how to follow rules. Physical exercise is also known to reduce stress which can open out your child’s mind during class time and improve their attention span.
Your child’s communication skills will improve with an increase in interaction with others, especially through team sports. The concept of working together for a common goal will become apparent to them. It’s a different social environment than in the classroom, but they can make friends with other kids that have a similar interest.
Also, some sports offer exchange programs with other countries, which can give your child an opportunity to be exposed to other cultures. It can also provide a distraction to any issues they might be facing. Kids who take part in sports are less likely to get into trouble with the law or engage in drug abuse.
Sports can give children direction and guidance. A coach that your child really bonds with can help their mental state in taking on life challenges for years to come. Learning a new skill and then performing it can help boost their self-esteem and self-confidence. And through pressure situations, they can learn about perseverance and how to maintain discipline. Sports can also provide children a sense of belonging, which is crucial in this stage of unknown for them.
How to Choose a Which Sport
The Health Sport Index has a great tool in helping you pick a sport for you kid. Or they can do what I did and just try them all. The best thing to do is to ask your child what they are interested in and follow their lead. You can provide suggestions but don’t force them into anything they don’t want. There are physical activities for everyone even if they don’t want to do sports.
Preschool & Kindergarten Age
This is the age where they seemingly have endless amounts of energy, so it’s a good idea to let them run and jump around in a sport. Their skills are very raw at this stage and they are probably not the best at following rules. So it’s best to pick a sport that is not too complicated or structured.
Both swimming and biking are more leisure activities that parents can do with their kids while introducing them to an athletic activity. For something slightly more organized, soccer is the most common sport at this age and can be done at home as well. Gymnastics and martial arts are also good and allows them to advance on their body movements at their own pace.
With my toddler, I regularly throw and kick the ball with him indoors and outdoors. We got him a balance bike, which he rides every day. And I also try to introduce him to hockey, but he uses the mini hockey sticks more for fishing out toys from under the couch. Just remember that they are still very young at this point and their commitment level might not be there for sports yet. If that’s the case, let them play freely and ask them again later.
Team Sports in School
By the time your kid goes to school, they will see others playing sports and may want to join them. This is a great place to do so because it’s generally very organized and safe for them to participate. And there are typically little to no costs involved.
Basketball, volleyball, football, soccer, rugby, field hockey, track and field, wrestling, and gymnastics are all great ways for your child to get excited about going to school for, at the very least. They can further bond with their classmates and it gives them something to be proud of in a socially challenging environment.
In elementary school, I was one of the taller kids so naturally I played basketball and volleyball. By the time I got into high school, the others caught up to me. But I was still fast, so track and field and football made more sense. Through it all, I still did well in my classes, so just make sure your kids prioritizing school work as well.
Team Sports Outside of School
If their school doesn’t offer a sport that your kid wants to do, then look at your local community centers. Sports like baseball, ice hockey, curling, lacrosse, and water polo typically require specific facilities. This offers them an opportunity to interact with new kids from other schools and exposure to other sports. Just be aware that some sports like ice hockey require substantially more the equipment cost along with more time commitment required outside of school.
Your community centers will also offer programs for kids who want to do these sports at a more leisurely level. They can still gain all the physical benefits without the pressure of competition. Sometimes, the mindset of winning can do more harm mentally than good. Don’t push them.
For my childhood, I played on soccer and baseball teams outside of school and street hockey with my brother and neighbors. This is how I wanted to spend my after-school hours because it’s what I enjoyed doing. So listen to your child opinions and encourage them to explore their interests.
Without the same collaborative environment that team sports provide, individual sports are a platform for your child to excel more on their own. Sports like swimming and fencing teach self motivation and self independence, something that they will eventually have to take on in the future.
Golf, tennis, badminton, and figure skating are excellent for hand-eye coordination, quick decision making and situation management. These sports will be more expensive though because of the venues and private lessons if your kid wants to get more serious about them.
I took both private and community lessons for tennis and badminton, which advanced skills to be more competitive. Because of this, it also gave me the opportunity to become a coach for my high school badminton team while I was a student. Just be aware that there can be higher amounts of pressure that come with these individual sports.
Martial arts have become very popular recently and for good reason. Despite what a great show like Cobra Kai might over-exaggerate, kids can gain self discipline, focus, and respect for themselves and others. Not to mention the intense physical benefits that something like judo, karate, taekwondo or jiu jitsu can provide.
A combat sport like boxing can be great for children to let off some steam. It teaches kids techniques of striking and self defense in a controlled manner without promoting violence. I trained in boxing for while after high school and it was one of the most physically demanding but beneficial sport I had done. My boxing club had a strong devotion towards kids too. Most martial arts classes are about strengthening communities and building self confidence. So make sure the coaches and culture of the classes match the values that your child would like to be involved with.
For kids that don’t like competition or the idea of sports, there are many alternative physical activities that they can do on their own. What about cheerleading or dance? If you’re near mountains then take them skiing or snowboarding. If you’re by the ocean then sailing or surfing could be of interest. There are leisure activities like inline skating or skateboard that anyone can do. And something as basic as running can be a great way to stay active. I was still running regularly until my son was born.
Keep it Safe and Let Them Have Fun
Now that you have a better idea on why you should introduce sports to your kids, see what’s available at school or the community. Engage with them and see what their thoughts are.
Try to understand the sports that they chose and ensure that they get appropriate equipment, protective gear. Also make sure they have proper rest as well. Their bodies need to recover after physical activity. This will hopefully help reduce the risk of injury.
But above all, make sure they are having fun with it. They will win more if they are happy. That is the best way to be a good dad.