Updated: Feb 28
It's no doubt that children of all ages should be leading physically active lives. Sport is a fun and social way for your child to develop and lead a physically active lifestyle. Children participating in sport is also important to develop many attributes preparing them for life skills such as decision making collaborating with others, developing fine and gross motor skills and self-efficacy. For many parents, getting their children to participate in sport is easy as their child has already developed a love for a particular sport. However, for some parents it may be difficult as their children may not have participated or have interest in playing sports.
With the introduction of technology apps and video games at the finger tips of our children , the rate of sedentary behaviour of children in Australia has significantly increased to an all time high. According to the NSW Department of Health (2019), Childhood obesity is also becoming an increasing concern as Australia recognises that 1 in 4 children are either overweight or obese. Health experts have been raising concerns about the rise in Australian children dropping out in sports. Further, there has been evidence that suggests this may be linked to the increase of children participating in sedentary behaviour. Studies show that children who lead sedentary lifestyles are far more likely to become less active throughout their lifespan. Inactive children are more likely to become inactive adults, further resulting in higher risks of chronic diseases.
So where do you come in as the parent?
Parents are our children's biggest role models. When it comes to children and sports, parents are much more than just carpool drivers. Parents play a critical role when it comes to helping their children participate in sport. For children under the age of 5, most parents can agree that their child has a seemingly endless supply of energy. From an early age our bodies are made to move, children love to run and play. However, it is important to understand that throughout a child's development from the moment they start crawling and until adolescence, we should guide children to develop, learn and refine essential skills. It is proven that the skills we learn through playing sport at an early age have a significant impact on the skills we carry on throughout our adult years.
Compared to other parts of the world, Australian children have great access and opportunities to participate in a variety of different sports. However when registering your child to a particular sport, parents should be aware of their child's sporting ability. However, different sports may require different skills and some of these skills depend on a child’s age. If they are not ready, children may get frustrated and the chances of enjoying that particular sport significantly decreases.
When introducing your children to sports and activities, there are a few things to keep in mind:
ENCOURAGEMENT : Naturally your child may need a little nudge to overcome their shyness, some children need a little encouragement. This could come from their friends or their parents as long as it is positive.
HAVING FUN: Although encouragement is needed, it can be unhealthy to continuously push your child if they don't enjoy the sport after 2 or 3 sessions. This can be a sign that they aren't having fun and studies have proven that fun is the major motivation for children to participate in sports.
EVERY CHILD IS DIFFERENT: Not every child will be interested in team sports. Younger children often may not be ready for team sports until they are older. This may mean individual sports or activities such as swimming, gymnastics or tennis may suit them better.
HAVE OPTIONS: Always have a another option and be prepared to switch sports or activities if your child is bored or uninterested. The great thing about sports is that there are so many options for children so other options are usually easily available. It is fine for your child to try several different sports before finding which sport they are comfortable with.
TALK TO YOUR CHILD: Take the time to figure out what they did or didn't enjoy about a particular sport or activity. This may make finding a sport for your child much easier.
SAMPLE SPORTS: Sometimes it may take a while for children to really like a particular sport. A sampling approach such as multi-sport programs is a great way for children to test out different sports and really figure out which one is right for them.
Multi Sport school holiday camps are great options for parents looking to choose the right sport for their child. Multi Sport camps provide opportunities for children to participate in a different sport each day. For example, often multi sport camps will split the days up with sports; Morning: Soccer, Lunch: Basketball,Afternoon: Touch Football. At Youth Sports Australia, we call this the 'Sampling Approach'.
Sampling approaches allow children to pick and choose what they do or don't like, or learn what they are or aren't good at. This also prevents children from having a burn out from overdoing one particular sport until they reach the point of disinterest. Recent studies have shown that children who specialise in one sport early in their lives were often found to be the first to quit their sports, resulting in having higher inactivity rates later in their lives.
Sport provides children with positive experiences and long term friends, so even if sport isn't a good fit for your child, it will also teach them many essential experiences and skills needed to develop.
Bevan De Vries
Youth Sports Australia