There’s nothing cuter than a bunch of preschoolers running around chasing after a ball – or each other. But is it a good idea – or a waste of time – to start the under-5 crowd on organized sports so young?
“It depends on the way the sport is presented,” said Cortney Myer, the supervising physical therapist at Akron Children’s Hospital. “At this age, skill learning is more important than game learning. Choose a team that emphasizes the fundamentals and practicing skills, rather than winning games.”
Team sports offer the chance for kids to meet and interact with their peers and improve their gross motor skills. They also are a great way to teach preschoolers the value of exercise and how to follow directions.
Kids who enjoy physical activity tend to stay active throughout their lives. And, staying fit can improve self-esteem, help maintain a healthy weight and decrease the risk of serious illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
“Organized sports are a good foundation for life,” said Myer. “It’s instilling movement at an early age, makes kids aware of their bodies, teaches sharing and how to deal with emotions of winning or losing.”
She suggests engaging your child in sporting activities that are fun and challenging, but not beyond his developmental abilities. Preschoolers are perfecting their ability to run, jump, and throw, catch and kick a ball. Also, kids this age have short attention spans and can only handle a limited amount of instruction, so look for activities with simple rules.
Sports like soccer, basketball and T-ball are great for preschoolers because the rules are relatively simple to grasp and help develop these skills and coordination. Swimming, tumbling, dancing and martial arts, though not necessarily team sports, are good options for this age, as well.
The coach’s attitude and the way other parents approach the game are also important to consider. Above all, a team activity should be fun, not upsetting. If he’s frustrated or feels pressured, it may discourage his future participation in sports. So, try to address the issue or find another activity.
It’s important for preschoolers to engage in a variety of activities to encourage a wide range of movement and skills.
Find the right balance between activities. Choose sports that use gross motor skills, or big movement, such as running, swimming and jumping, and fine motor skills to build hand-eye coordination.
“Diversity is important at this young age,” said Myer. “Give kids lots of options and let them pick and choose what they’d like to participate in. Sports specialization puts kids at a higher risk for injury. At this young age, it’s a good time to explore activities.”