It’s been said that numbers don’t lie, and the shocking statistics from the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has made one thing abundantly clear: we have got to make a better effort to encourage our kids to get up and get active.
According to the ABS, 25 per cent of children and teens between the ages of five and 17 years are overweight or obese. They also found that only six out of ten children from the ages of five to 14 years of age participate in an extracurricular sport outside of school.
There are a lot of benefits that come from a child learning a sport, like:
- Learning new skills
- Working with other children and adults
- Learning the importance of practice
- Friendly competition
- Better sleep
- Better social and leadership skills
The benefits don’t just stop in childhood. It has been found that those who are active as children are more likely to become physically active as adults. This goes a long way in reducing your child’s risk of developing a number of diseases like osteoporosis and heart disease, and it can reduce their risk of suffering from emotional problems like anxiety and depression.
When children can be introduced to sports
The Australian Government recommends that children and young adults engage in a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity every day for optimal health. Sports of all sorts are a great way to get kids excited about exercise while learning other valuable skills.
Sports can start as soon as your child is able to sit up and roll a ball back to you across a short distance. For those of kindergarten age and younger, the sports you engage in should be more about having fun and being active and less about competition.
Depending on the temperament and physical skill level of your child, organised sports can likely be introduced between the ages of six and seven. At this point, they have the attention span needed to pay attention to and follow instructions.
In addition to your child’s own abilities, it’s important to choose the right “club” or organisation that will support your child’s growth and development. The sport should be less about transforming your child into a world-class athlete and should instead focus on:
- Good sportsmanship
- Fun and positive learning
- Safety and respect
Choosing the right sport for children
It’s important not to force your child to play a certain sport. As tempting as it may be to sign him or her up for something because you enjoyed it as a child, or because a study said that a particular sport would be great for their development, having them participate in something they don’t enjoy will only deter them from physical activities in the future.
Allow your child to try out as many sports as he or she has an opportunity to participate in. This doesn’t mean you need to sign your child up for everything. It’s as simple as grabbing a ball and heading to the field or the basketball court.
Try to expose your children to a variety of both team sports (lacrosse, football, rugby, etc.) and individual sports (karate, dancing, swimming, etc.). You can also mix up the focus of the sport, with some focusing on a ball (like baseball and tennis) and others focusing on control and movement (like parkour and gymnastics).
Even if your child doesn’t show immediate interest in an organised sport, encourage them to go out and play. Walking the dog, playing tag, and riding bikes are all great ways to keep your kids – and yourself, if you join – in great physical shape.