There’s no doubt that playing a sport can be fantastic for a child’s development. Sport can not only help your child stay active and improve their gross and fine motor skills, but it can also encourage the development of social skills, cognitive skills (remembering rules and understanding how the game works), and the ability to stay focussed on a task. However, even sports that seem fairly simple can be quite complicated for younger children to understand and there is also a risk of injury, especially in competitive sports. So should your preschooler be playing sport?
When you think sport, you’re probably thinking of things like soccer, football, tennis, or athletics. These activities in their standard format are probably not appropriate for most pre-schoolers. The rules are too complex, the format is too rigid for young children to follow and preschoolers generally don’t have the attention span to stay focussed for the entire length of a game. But this doesn’t mean your child can’t (or shouldn’t) be involved in sports at all. While children aged under five are too young to participate in traditional organised sports, they can certainly begin practising the skills they’ll need to excel later in life. As with academics, preschool-aged children learn physical skills best through play, so the goal is to create an environment where they can practice foundation skills (like hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and aerobic capacity) in a way that is fun and engaging, rather than focusing on the official rules and format of the sport.
At Little Zak’s we understand that sports can be fantastic for children’s development, but we also know that toddlers and preschoolers learn best through age-appropriate play. That’s why we developed the Zakaroos program, which allows children aged two-to-six to develop their fitness and athletic ability in a way that is fun and engaging. The Zakaroos program is carefully designed to build athletic skills while prioritising play, with activities like stretching, relays, dribbling exercises, monkey in the middle, kangaroo jumps, and an “avoid the land mines” game. This program is the perfect way to get young children involved in sports from a young age and build healthy habits in a way that is safe and fun. It’s also a great outlet for children who are keen to try team sports but who are too young or not yet cognitively or emotionally ready for organised sports. Click here to learn more about Zakaroos, or contact us to discuss enrolling your child at one of our centres today.
While it’s clear that typical organised sports are not appropriate for kids under 5, the right age to start will depend largely on the type of sport, the level of competition, and the physical, emotional, and mental maturity of your individual child. While many children will have the basic physical skills required to play some sports by age four or five, they likely won’t be able to fully understand, remember and follow the rules of a game until closer to age seven or eight. At this point, you may feel comfortable signing your child up for a recreational league that focuses on fun and learning the fundamental skills of the game. A good recreational league will help your child build confidence, develop team spirit and learn the basic skills required to play, without putting a lot of pressure on winning.
As your child gets older, maybe around ten years old, they will become increasingly capable of dealing with the pressure of competing, committing to training, and handling the disappointment of losing or being “benched”. At this point, they may feel ready to join a more competitive league.
Remember also that even “non-contact” sports like soccer, netball or athletics come with a risk of injury, even for young children, so you may want to factor this into your decision-making. While running the risk of minor injuries isn’t necessarily a reason to avoid sport altogether, it’s important to factor in the overall effect this would have on your individual child. The same goes for the time commitments required to train and attend games, especially if travel is involved. You may need to weigh up the benefits of team sport with the time it may take away from your child’s other interests or time for socialising or simply relaxing.
At Little Zak’s we’re passionate about allowing young children to experience all the benefits of sport, without overburdening them with pressure to follow complex rules that are not age-appropriate. Our Zakaroos program helps children develop the fundamental skills they will need to enjoy competitive sports later in life while keeping the focus on fun and confidence-building for now. To learn more about our sporting programs or to enquire about enrolling your child at one of our centres, contact us today.