Introducing a child to sports can be frightening, especially if that child is under the age of five. By the end of their child’s first year, parents know to keep a weather eye out for the everyday dangers that arise, from sharp corners to uneven sidewalks. Sometimes it seems like the child is perpetually taking a stressful tumble to the ground; a parent might worry that they’ll never be ready to take up sports without somehow hurting themselves.
However, simplified athletic activities can offer valuable opportunities for motor and social skill development even to young children. According to Dr. Laurie Zelinger, a clinical child psychologist based in Cedarhurst, New York, “Loving a sport will teach children vital life skills – discipline, motivation, commitment, and cooperation.” Sports can be a valuable context linking teamwork and thoughtful decision-making to a child’s social and physical development. As a father and sports fan, I’ve learned that integrating athletics in home life isn’t difficult – but doing so in a way that sparks a productive passion for athletics in the child’s later years can be. Consider the following when you finally decide to share your love for sports with your child.
Incorporate sports into a familiar environment
A young child doesn’t have to play to enjoy a game! Share your love for athletics by introducing your child to the idea of playing. Bring them to a community game, or even set up a family match in your backyard! Invite them to share in your excitement, and they will look forward to participating.
Encourage your child’s efforts
For three- and four-year-olds, a “sprint” across the backyard looks suspiciously like an enthusiastic waddle. In their toddling years, children are still getting a handle on basic motor skills. Odds are, they won’t be able to pass, dribble, or throw a ball well – they might even end up scoring a goal for the other team! However, technical skill isn’t a priority at their stage of development – enthusiasm is. The quickest way to scare a child away from sports is to criticize their efforts and critique their practice. Stay supportive! Encourage your child even if they take a tumble or run in the entirely wrong direction. In the end, you’ll foster a love for sports far more valuable than any one technique.
When your child grows to be five or six, you can begin to teach them the rules of play. Foster interest and curiosity by encouraging your child to ask questions! No matter how they progress in future years, you will always be their first coach.
Incorporating athletics into your child’s weekly schedule early on is vital to instilling a lifelong passion for sports. Make the time to talk to your child and determine which sport they would most like to play, then sign them up for the nearest team! In doing so, you’ll set the foundation for a lifelong love of sports.