Why playing sports is good for your tot

Keep your tot active with an age-appropriate sport…and make sure having fun is the order of the day!

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Your baby, who started crawling at about 7 months and walking at age 1, is now tearing around the house, running, climbing and jumping. Maybe it’s time to introduce some sports to him.

You highly doubt your Energizer Bunny will be able to understand any sports rules, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t introduce to him a bunch of physical skills that will help him when he picks up a sport in the future.

The key is to introduce your tyke to movements that are challenging but fun, and not beyond his natural abilities. Some examples are hopping, balancing on one foot, kicking or throwing a ball.

Why play sports

Sports are important for your child’s physical and emotional development. “They help your child develop physically, strengthens their muscles and helps them achieve key milestones,” says Chua Wee Lee, managing director at Ready Steady Go Kids Singapore.

For preschoolers, this means developing their Fundamental Movement Skills, or the building blocks of their movement, which include running, jumping, hopping, throwing and catching, he notes.

Your child’s emotional development stands to gain, too. Through sports, junior learns how to play with others and understands the various emotions they feel, for instance, “from frustration in not being able to perform a skill well, to the exhilaration when successfully performing a skill,” Chua explains. “They’ll also get to learn about teamwork, sportsmanship and the value of doing something again and again till they are able to do it well.”

The key is to introduce your tyke to movements that are challenging but fun, and not beyond his natural abilities.

Manage your expectations

At this age, you won’t be able to get your toddler playing the actual sport ― rules included ― but letting him try simple movements and actions can help him gain a basic interest in the sport and develop his motor skills.

While it’s important to get your tot moving and active, it’s crucial to have the element of play and fun (rather than winning or excelling). Says Chua, “Particularly for those aged 2 to 3, we focus on games and play. Introduce a variety of sports to them, so it’s holistic and not one dimensional.”

Chua adds that children mimic well and pick up habits from their parents at a young age, “so if you’re active and bring them out regularly to be active, they will like it.”

Here are ways to introduce your tot to sports ― just make sure he’s always supervised by an adult!

FOOTBALL

Benefits: If your husband loves the sport, he’s going to love bonding with your munchkin over it. Furthermore, football promotes endurance, speed and strength. It also builds stamina and encourages team work, when you need to pass the ball to your teammate.

What you can do:
*Anything can be used as the “goal”. Use two shoes, or mark the ground with chalk to indicate where the ball has to be “scored”. Your tyke will have lots of fun trying to score a goal.

*Dribble the ball for a distance and get your tot to try to “steal” the ball from you…no hands allowed!

*Give junior a chance to be the goalkeeper ― it’s his turn to prevent you from scoring!

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TENNIS

Benefits: Racquet games require lots of hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes. It involves the use of your child’s whole body, and strategic thinking, so it boosts his brain. This is a good cardiovascular workout that requires teamwork, which makes it a good social activity, too.

What you can do:
*Start by teaching your tot about the different parts of the courts and the lines on the ground ― there’s the service line, the base line, the single service lines and the double service lines.

*Play a simple game where you call out the name of the line, and your little one has to run to it and step on it.

BASKETBALL

Benefits: Basketball is a high-intensity sport that requires stamina, agility and hand-eye coordination. All the running around will build up your little one’s endurance, and dribbling, passing the ball and shooting requires precision and quick reflexes. It also trains your peewee’s concentration as he needs to figure out where his teammates and opponents are on the court, while maintaining possession of the ball.

What you can do:
*Give your child a rubber ball. Get him to throw it at you, or at a target, such as a large laundry basket. The younger the child, the closer the basket should be to him.

*Teach your child to bounce it once, then twice and three times. Don’t worry if he can’t catch it after he bounces it ― simply trying will help to improve his hand-eye coordination. Introduce him to the term “dribble”. Show him what dribbling a ball means, and ask him to try to retrieve the ball from you as you dribble.

GYMNASTICS

Benefits: Gymnastics is great for enhancing your child’s flexibility, agility and balance. Gymnastics routines also increase muscle strength and gives your little one a greater awareness of his body.

What you can do:
*Lay a 1.5m-long piece of rope or ribbon on the ground. Ask junior to stand at one end of the rope with his arms raised on his sides, palms facing down. Get him to walk the length of the rope, following it as closely as possible. This trains his balance.

*Teach your little gymnast how to do a bunny hop. He should be in the squatting position, with his palms on the ground. When he hops, he transfers his body weight from his legs to his hands ― this preps children for learning cartwheels.

*Introduce a variety of floor movements, such as slithering on the floor like a snake, rolling on one’s side, or star jumps. Then, turn on the music and get your munchkin grooving, using all these newly learnt movements.

Gymnastics routines also increase muscle strength and gives your little one a greater awareness of his body.

SWIMMING

Benefits: Being able to swim offers numerous advantages. For one, it reduces the risk of an emergency, should your child fall into a pool by accident. Swimming is also a great workout for junior’s muscles, it helps coordination and balance, and develops his heart, lungs and brain. Being in the water is also relaxing and helps clear his mind. Be sure to always keep an eye on your toddler, no matter how shallow the water is.

What you can do:
*By around the age of 3, your cutie will be able to understand how to blow bubbles in the water. He may even understand what it means to breathe in, hold his breath for three seconds and then breathe out. Practise this breathing sequence with him.

*If you’ve got access to a shallow pool, toss some brightly coloured toys into the water. You can teach him how some objects float and some sink. Get him to retrieve the objects for you. Urge him to try to hold his breath and put his head into the water, so he can reach deeper for the objects that sink.

*Let junior sit at the edge of the pool and show him how to kick in the water. Keep his legs as straight as possible, with his knees just slightly bent, as this is how he would be kicking when he starts to swim.

CYCLING

Benefits: Cycling is a fantastic outdoor activity that can be enjoyed by all in the family (even the littlest ones can ride in a baby seat attached to an adult’s bike). It’s a workout that strengthens your little ones’ core and leg muscles, improves his balance and coordination and raises his metabolic rate. Plus, it’s a way to relieve anxiety and stress, and he’ll enjoy the fresh air and open spaces.

What you can do:
*From the age of 2, you can introduce your tot to a balance bike. These bikes are light enough for a young child to handle, and give him a sense of how to keep a bike balanced, upright and steady as he moves along. He’ll also learn the basics of leaning and steering.

*Start him off on the grass. The resistance on a grass surface allows him to balance easier, plus it’ll put your mind at ease as a spill on grass hurts a lot less than falling on concrete.

*Once he’s comfortable on the balance bike, allow him to roll down a slight slope ― it’s more effortless than having to kick off from level ground, which he can learn to do later.

Photos: iStock

Sign up for a fun-filled Healthy Timeout Challenge activity with junior on the Healthy 365 mobile app (download from Google Play or the Apple App Store) from now till 31 August! You won’t just earn Healthpoints when you scan the QR code on-site, you’ll also stand a chance to win one of three fab staycations as part of the Health Promotion Board’s family engagement initiative.

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