Sports for Preschoolers: How Young is Too Young?
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Originally published in the Preschooler Focus Newsletter, a resource provided by the Child Health & Exercise Medicine Program at McMaster University
Feb 19, 2015
Sport participation in the early years should be a fun and enjoyable part of growing up.
For many young children, organized sport participation is a key contributor to physical activity levels. It is important to focus on fun and active play in the early years, rather than on skills mastery and competition. At any time of the year, young children can have opportunities to participate in sport. Participating in sport can contribute to children’s overall physical activity level, and may have other benefits such as development of motor and social skills, including teamwork and cooperation.
Keeping score is the wrong message during the early years.
Many parents enroll their children in a variety of sport programs. It is important to consider the age and development of your child when enrolling them in different programs. The early years are a time to develop positive physical activity habits and a love of sport. But how young is too young? It’s never too young to be active.
Daily physical activity should incorporate many movement forms. Different activities can include body control skills, such as balancing and other forms of coordination, and locomotor skills, such as walking, running, jumping and skipping. Developing these skills will lay the foundation for future sport-specific skills. Sport participation should focus on fun. Keeping score is the wrong message during the early years.
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The Health Outcomes and Physical activity in Preschoolers (HOPP) Study at McMaster University asked parents of 3- to 5-year-olds about sport participation. 87% of parents reported participation in organized activities in the last month and 90% in the last year. The sports most often reported were: swimming (79%), soccer (48%), gymnastics (40%), dance (30%), ice hockey (21%), and T-ball (9%).
What can parents do?
- Be a positive sports role model!
- Emphasize the fun of sports!
- Don’t focus on the rules, keeping score or competition in the early years.
- Be sure the sports program and equipment are safe and age-appropriate.
Be supportive of your child’s coach and teammates.
Benefits of Sport Participation in the Early Years
A way of being physically-active leading to…
- Physical well-being, such as reduced risk of obesity and improved fitness.
- Psychological well-being, such as reducing anxiety and depression and increasing self-esteem.
- Development of teamwork, leadership, problem-solving and coping skills.
- Social development - children have opportunities to respect others, cooperate, and make new friendships.
If you would like more information on physical activity in the early years, please visit McMaster's Child Health and Exercise Medicine Program website.
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