Children love to play games, run, jump and in general have a wonderful time no matter what they’re doing, inside or out.
Organized sports are a big part of many children’s lives and there are many benefits for a child to start them young. The lessons that a child will learn by being involved in sports at an early age are lessons that will stay with them for life.
Just because a child is young when they start a sport does not mean they need to plan on going into it professionally. The benefits we are talking about in this article have more to do with the life lessons sports involvement teaches.
Sometimes you may find that a child excels in a particular sport and may want to pursue it on the professional level. As long as the child isn’t being pushed to do something they truly don’t like or want to do, it’s fine to encourage them to pursue higher training and goals in a sport they really love and have an affinity for.
The different choices available for organized sports for your child will vary from place to place. The best way to find out what is offered outside the school system is to check with your city or town’s parks and recreation department. If there are extracurricular sports offered, they will know. The most common sports that are offered to kids of all ages usually include:
- Football (flag football for super young ones)
- Horseback riding
- Ice skating
Keep in mind that not all of these sports will be available or offered where you are. Baseball is usually offered through Little League which is a nationwide organization. Sometimes churches offer sports as well. Checking around with other parents is another good way to find out what is offered.
Below we have listed six key benefits that starting sports at an early age offers your child. These benefits will stay with them throughout their lives and have a big impact on how they see things as they grow up.
1. Decreased chance of childhood obesity
Childhood obesity is a growing problem due to the ever growing popularity of more sedentary activities such as video games and online chat rooms. Starting sports at an early age helps to alleviate this problem since the child will have to be at practices and games or meets.
Getting a young child involved in physical activity early sets a precedence that can increase as they get older and start participating in more competitive sports. One thing a parent can do to ensure that the child’s love of sports continues is not to push them too hard too soon. The stresses of competitive sports on a young child can make them want to quit, so while they’re young and learning, keep it fun and encouraging for them and save the harder competitive mentality for when they are older.
Children that are pushed too hard in sport at a young age can have increased injuries that are not common to that age group. If your child is involved in sports at a young age, don’t forget to also teach them about taking care of their health and bodies as well to reduce the chances of injuries and long term issues as they get older.
2. Learning how to be a team player
All children have the “self” mentality when they are very young. “I want that.” “Give me that.” “I don’t want to do that.” “I don’t want to share.” “That is mine.” When a child engages in team sports at an early age, they learn what being on a team is all about and sharing is a big part of that.
This means sharing the limelight, learning to compromise, learning to support their other team members and also learning to work together are all things a good extracurricular sport will instill in a child. These are all skills that will help them in school, in their careers as an adult and in their personal relationships. Being able to work well with others makes them an important part of the team, whether in sport or in life.
When you are looking for a good sport to start your child in, take a look at the coaches of these sports. You want to find a coach that has a good belief system about things like trying your best, keeping up with practices, not quitting midway during the season and that while winning is fun, it certainly isn’t everything and learning how to lose gracefully and with class is just as important as learning how to win with the same grace and class.
3. What good Sportsmanship is and what that means
Sportsmanship can be a rare thing in some competitive sports, but if a child is started in sports at an early age, and is with a coach that holds sportsmanship as a high priority, the integrity this will build will be invaluable.
Winning is fun, everyone loves to win. But what makes a champion, is being able to lose with class.
Every person who participates in sports, regardless of age, wants to excel at what they do, that is the goal of every sport participator.
Good sportsmanship is not about wanting to lose or even not caring if you lose, it’s about having respect for the sport and its participants, so if you DO lose, you do not have a tantrum, disrespect the winner and make the team look bad.
Teaching a child to hold their head high, shake the hand of the winner and try harder next time will be invaluable and a huge step in teaching them that even someone who loses in a match or game, can still be a winner. The responsibility for instilling good sportsmanship is not just the responsibility of the coaches; it is the parent’s responsibility as well.
It is not uncommon to see parents yelling at the coaches, umpires, referees, their own children and even other kids when they get overzealous about their child or their child’s team winning. It is very important that the parent be a part of good sportsmanship as well through their own actions during practices and games regardless of how the game turns out.
4. Readies them For Competition in High School
While a child is young, learning to participate in sports can help prepare them for the more competitive world of high school sports should they want to continue playing.
Don’t worry about specializing in one particular sport while they are young. It is much better for them to have fun and learn about many different sports opportunities while they are young.
Once they are in high school, sports takes on a different tone and they can even play for something as important as a college scholarship should they find a sport that they love and are talented in.
Unfortunately, sports have changed quite a bit over the years and children are not exposed to healthy competition in the early sports years.
Everyone gets a trophy, everyone wins, no one is a loser… but that is not how it is in the real world and it certainly isn’t how it is in high school and college sports. There is most certainly a winner and whether the child grows up and is participating in sports and competing for a title or championship or they are in the workforce, competing for a promotion, if they have been coddled too much during the early days of sports, they will find competition difficult.
Healthy competition is good for a child. It builds character, it helps them work hard, and it helps them with lifelong skills such as determination, discipline and self accountability. Teach a child at a young age that competition, honest competition, is good for them and they will have a real go-getter attitude as they grow up.
5. Learning Early On How Important Nutrition and Exercise Is
To participate successfully in sports, regardless of the age, it is important that the child be eating properly and getting proper rest.
These are also very valuable lessons to instill early on, especially in a society that struggles so much with weight and body image. When participating in sports, even extracurricular ones, it is important to eat healthy, sleep well and drink the right things too.
All too often children are given sugary snacks and drinks, even at the games and practices. Instead they should have oranges, Gatorade, water, bananas, and other healthy snacks.
Before they play or practice, they need to have a good healthy snack or light meal that contains proteins, good carbs and healthy fats, not snack cakes and soda filled with nothing but sugar.
Sports can give parents a really good reason to change the foods they feed their entire family. The whole family will definitely benefit from this healthier eating and those habits will stick around for a very long time. The way a child eats as a child can make a big impression and those habits will stick with them throughout their lives.
If your child decides to pursue a particular sport on a more serious level, how they eat and what they eat becomes even more important. The older they get, the more important eating properly becomes, especially in competitive sports. By introducing them to healthy eating early on, they will already know how to do this when they are competing and/or training.
6. Increased Positive Self Esteem and Confidence
Participation in organized sports, especially when started early in a child’s life can have a huge impact on how a child feels about themselves. This is why it is especially important to find a good coach that encourages self esteem, confidence, sportsmanship and other positive aspects of playing sports.
When a child participates in organized sports, they have the chance to improve and if they have an affinity for whatever sport they are participating in, they have the opportunity to really shine as well. A well run sports program will encourage children to work hard to improve their performance in a positive way not through belittling or criticizing.
This doesn’t mean that they will not be shown the right way to do something, but if all that happens is that their mistakes are focused on to the exclusion of all else, they will feel badly about themselves and eventually want to quit. With the right supervision and instruction any child can improve how they play sports, even if they aren’t very good when they first start.
There have been studies that show that participation in sports can prevent teen pregnancies, can prevent children from getting in trouble and getting in with the wrong crowds and can reduce the rate of teen substance abuse. The reasons for this include the increased levels of self confidence and esteem as well as giving the child direction and focus.
A bored, unsupervised child is at an increased risk of choosing the wrong things to do with their time, so having sports to participate in on a regular basis can be a very positive experience all the way around well into the teen years.
What if Your Child Doesn’t Like Traditional Sports?
If your child doesn’t seem to want to participate in regular sports like baseball, soccer, football or basketball, see if you can find one that they like.
Your child may prefer more isolated or singular sports such as golf and tennis. This still has the same benefits, even if they are not playing on a team they will still learn sportsmanship, practice, following rules, and other very beneficial skills.
You can also look for art classes, theater classes, dance classes, gymnastics classes and many other activities if there are no sports available where you live. It will still be a very positive experience for them, teach them how to work around others and take others into consideration and it will still be a great way to build their self esteem and self confidence.