How to Choose The Perfect Sport For Your Child

How To Choose The Perfect Sport For Your Child

Sport and kids go together.

The benefits for young ones in terms of development of motor skills, flexibility, strength and proprioception are well established.

So is the connection between involvement in sports and exercises and improved performance in the classroom. But sports can also be an extremely frustrating experience for children.

Unless they find the perfect sport for them, it is likely to end up badly.

In
this article, we will provide you, the parent with the guidance you need to
help your child find the perfect sport for them. We’ve also included a
comprehensive FAQ that covers all of your youth sport questions.

Steps to Finding the Perfect Sport for your Child

The basic steps:

Expose Them to Variety

Toddle in the Sand

Rather than pushing your child toward a particular sport, you should expose them to as wide a variety of sports as possible as early as you can.

Of course, it is quite possible that they will choose the sport that you have a passion for, but this needs to be their choice, not yours.

The first and most important point that must be emphasized in any discussion about kids and sport is that you should never force your child into a particular sport.

Doing so is a recipe for disaster. This, of course, can be a challenge, especially if you were particularly good at a certain sport yourself.

You may have dreams and ambitions that your child has inherited your genetic potential and is destined to take your legacy to even greater heights.

In nine cases out of ten, the end result will be resentment on the part of your child and an aversion for that sport for the rest of their life.

Let your toddler watch sports on the television with you.

Being toddlers, they will inevitably ask questions. Don’t be so absorbed in the game that you ignore their ‘why’ questions, however annoying they may seem at the time.

Talk to your youngster about how the game is played and whether or not they would like to give it a try.

It’s a good idea to purchase a sports center for your toddler. These plastic contraptions are relatively inexpensive and can be used right in your lounge room.

They will provide the child with a fun, engaging way to explore such sports such as soccer, basketball and ‘t’ ball. Check out our comprehensive review of the best sports centers for toddlers.

Check Their Enthusiasm

Happy Toddlers Running

Having exposed your toddler to as wide a variety of sports as possible, look for leanings toward a particular sport.

Which sport on their multi-sport center do they play the most?

Which ones do they like to watch most on TV?

Are they more drawn to team sports like soccer or individual effort sports such as swimming or golf?

Consider Body Type?

Even though you don’t want to curb your child’s enthusiasm, nor do you want to set them up for failure.

A taller child is naturally more suited to basketball than football, and vice versa.

But, if they have a real love for a sport that is contrary to their body type, then you shouldn’t warn them off it.

If, on the other hand, they have an equal love for basketball and soccer and have a body type that is suited more for basketball, you could explain to them that most people who do well at basketball are taller like them.

Even so, you should leave it to your child to decide which one they want to focus on.

Teach Skills

Once your child has identified the sport they want to focus on, spend one on one time with them helping to develop their skills at that sport.

This is a great time for dads, especially, to bond with their child, as they work with them to develop their dribbling or passing skills.

This shouldn’t occur before the age of 5. Prior to that time,you should still be exposing your child to a smorgasbord of sports.

Get a Check Up

Before enrolling your youngster in an organized sports teaam, you should take them along to the doctor for a check up.

This will help to identify any potential body misalignments that may lead to injury in the particular sport that your child wants to focus on.

Expect Responsibility

Learning a sport is a great opportunity for your child to learn some important life skills.

These include taking responsibility, scheduling, being disciplined in practice and game preparation and giving up time on other things to get better.

Talk to your child about these things and then set high expectations.

What are the motor skills that toddlers have developed?

Motor Skills Toddlers

Between the ages of three and five, children are starting to develop their fine motor skills.

At the same time, they are using more gross motor skills as they enthusiastically explore their environment.

The typical day of a toddler will alternate between sharp bursts of energy, sometimes manic, and short periods of rest.

Pre-school children are primed to be able to start learning to kick, throw, run and jump. They will do these things naturally, as they develop more advanced motor skills, such as changing direction quickly.

These agility related skills are useful for such sports such as soccer and basketball.

Toddlers are also beginning to more accurately gauge distance. At this age, they are able to listen to and follow simple instructions.

As a result, they are able to be enrolled in such organized sports such as soccer or gymnastics with instruction directed at their level. This is a great age to expose your child to a variety of sports as outlined in the section above.

Preschool
age children are able to start using age appropriate sports equipment. Junior
sized basketballs, large soccer balls and soft baseballs can be introduced.

What are some basic exercises for your toddler?

Toddlers love to move.

They won’t need much encouragement to join in with you when you do a workout at home. But, rather than viewing this as workout time, consider it exercise play.

Here are four basic exercises that you can share with your toddler:

Running

Toddlers love to run, so it makes sense to use it as part of an exercise session.

Keep the distances relatively short.

You can do it indoors or outdoors and you can and should vary the movement pattern.

Mix it up with intervals of running, skipping, side shuffling and backwards running.

Jumping

Jumping Toddlers

This is another activity that toddlers will eagerly engage in.

You can have them doing jumping jacks, tuck jumps, hurdle hops, one foot hops and criss cross jumps.

Squats

Teaching
your toddler to squat down to parallel without rounding their back will help to
develop lower body strength and coordination. Combine squats with jumps to
deliver a slightly more intense leg workout.

The Plank

The plank is a simple exercise that your toddler will enjoy doing alongside you.

It will give them the feeling that they are doing ‘big people’ exercise.

Have them lie on the floor with just the elbows and toes touching the ground. Try to encourage them not to have their butt too high in the air.

What are some basic sports for toddlers?

While it is best to allow toddlers to engage in free play activities such as playing at the park, hop skipping and jumping, kicking and throwing a ball, you can introduce some basic sports to them in an age appropriate way.

The following are good options:

  • T-ball, softball or baseball
  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Gymnastics
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Dancing
  • Jumping rope
  • Golf

You should introduce a minimum of rules so as not to confuse your child. Keep it simple enough to give them a basic idea of the overall objective of the game.

All of the above activities will help your toddler to develop their fine and gross motor skills while also enhancing their balance and proprioception.

However,if you had to choose one activity above all others that provided your toddler with a cross section of skills that are relatable to most future sport choices, it would be gymnastics (see our article on the benefits of starting your toddler on  a gymnastics program).

How do I test the motor skills of my toddler?

Motor skills are categorized as being either fine or gross.

Fine motor skills are those that require dexterity of the fingers and toes, while gross motor skills require compound movements to be coordinated. As a parent, you can assess both of these with your child.

The
following activities will help you to assess and develop the fine motor skills
of your toddler:

Tracing Exercise

Use a black sharpie to draw a black circle on a sheet of paper.

Then place another piece of paper on top of it and ask your child to trace over it. They won’t get it perfectly right, but this will give you a good indication of their fine motor skills.

Piggy Bank

Testing toddlers

Cut a slot in the top of a margarine container.

Put this in front of your child along with a range of different sized coins. Now, ask him to put them into the container. Watch how he gets on.

Crayon Hold

Observe the way your child holds crayons or pencils.

You should be looking for a tripod hold in which the crayon is held between the index finger and thumb. It should rest along the middle finger.

If
you observe that your child needs to strengthen their fine motor skills, you
should consider buying some clay or silly putty. This will help to strengthen
your child’s fingers. You can also allow your child to play with a cup of water
and an eyedropper.

The
following activities will help you to develop gross motor skills. Have your
child perform each task 5 times in order to get a good idea of their level of
ability:

Throwing

Have
your child try to catch a large ball that you gently toss toward her from a
close distance.

Kicking

Place
a soccer ball in front of your toddler and encourage her to kick it towards
you.

Hitting

Place your child in front of a t-ball stick with the ball sitting on top of it.

Now give your child an age -appropriate t-ball bat and encourage her to hit the ball.

If you notice that your child is lacking in gross motor skills, here are some
activities you can encourage your child to do in order to develop them:

  • Hopscotch
  • Simon Says
  • Wheelbarrow race
  • Obstacle course
  • Playground activities
  • Swimming

How do I know if my child is a sports prodigy?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkFongLlJoQ

A prodigy is a person who is on the extreme end of giftedness.

They are exceptionally talented in one area but not necessarily in others.

The signs of being a prodigy can emerge as early as two years of age. Prodigies usually emerge in the areas of mathematics, music, art and, less frequently, sports.

A genuine prodigy will achieve mastery level of a discipline by the age of ten.

He or she is totally focused on the discipline in which they excel. It is important to note that you cannot create a prodigy. Prodigies are born not created.

The basic guiding principle here is that if you have to ask if your child is a prodigy, then they probably aren’t. Genuine child prodigies will stick out like a sore thumb.

Think of Mozart.

He was composing his first symphony at the age of eight. It has been estimated that child prodigies occur at a rate of one in five million.

That means that there are around sixty six child prodigies in the United States. And that is across all disciplines. Let’s say that one fifth of them are in a sports related field. That’s around 13 children.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that your child is not one of those thirteen sports prodigies in the United States.

But, if they are, you’ve probably already booked them for America’s Got Talent.

Tiger Woods appeared on the forerunner to that show, That’s Incredible, when he was five years of age. His father didn’t have to ask anybody if his son was a child prodigy. It was clear for all the world to see.

If you have identified that your child actually is a prodigy, you should not try to force him or her to be like other kids.

They will be obsessively fixated on their area of expertise and nothing you can do will change that. If your child’s needs to excel exceed your own capabilities, enrol them in lessons with an elite coach.

Why shouldn’t you force your toddler into a sport?

toddler sports forcing

Forcing your toddler to play sports is never a good idea.

Unless they want to do the activity, they are going to do it begrudgingly at best and be turned off that sport for life at worst. Another very real problem is forcing your toddler to engage in sports before they are ready may set them up for injuries.

Pediatricians are seeing a marked increase in sports related injuries as a result of kids becoming involved at an earlier age. It’s important for parents to slow down and let their child take up sport when they are ready.

You may have  toddler who just isn’t inclined toward sport.

Maybe he’s more artistic and loves nothing more than drawing all day long. Forcing such a child to play a sport is probably only going to end up in tears.

If you try to push him against his will, your child is likely to develop anxiety. This will only be exacerbated if you put him on a sports team when he clearly doesn’t want to be there.

What if your child wants to play more than one sport at a time.

It’s a good idea to expose them to plenty of variety at this age, but you don’t want to overload their schedule.

The most important thing for your toddler to do is to have unstructured time to explore and develop their gross and fine motor skills through unstructured play. Stuffing their schedule with more than one sport runs the risk of overwhelming your child.

Conclusion

Getting your child into sports the right way is a win-win for both of you.

By following through on the guidelines presented above, you will be able to guide your young one to the perfect sport for them.

However, you also need to tread carefully so as to not to force your child into a sport before they are ready or that they don’t have an affinity for.

Get that balance right and you will have a happy, healthy, sporty kid on your hands.

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