While very young children just love the fun of running and kicking and throwing balls around, by the time they are six or seven years old, kids begin to enjoy sharing their skills. They also now have an audience to cheer them when they score a goal!
Even from the youngest age, playing together is valuable not just as a way of letting of steam.
• Team sports take a child’s mind off their own efforts at running around – a good way to get exercise without it feeling like hard work!
• By year 2 (even in a casual playground form) children begin to appreciate the skills of other children and this encourages the first important life lessons in teamwork.
• The highs and lows of winning or losing are easier to cope with if experienced as part of a team, giving children the chance to deal with different emotions.
Although young children might not understand every rule of a game, they can begin to appreciate its general aims through personal experience.
• If you have a particular sport in mind, suggest you watch it together on television.
• You could take your child to a live match or game but bear in mind that tickets can be expensive, crowds are dauntingly big (and noisy) and that small children might find a whole game too much to sit through. Try a local, lower league game first, perhaps.
• Show your child that you love to play sports yourself to nurture their own positive attitudes to being active – in the back garden, on the beach, in the park.
Your child’s true passions will develop naturally, so encourage, but don’t push.
• Try to find taster courses that give your child a chance to explore a sport for a few sessions before they decide if they have a serious passion.
• Find a local YMCA or volunteer sports organisation. These centres often have access to good equipment and courses at lower rates than private sports or fitness clubs.
• Don’t be disappointed if they change their mind after a few weeks – if a friend of theirs shows a keen interest in another sport, your child might suddenly want to switch to that. That’s OK – you never know where their true interest or talents lay.
Negative criticism from team coaches or parents is the biggest cause of kids dropping out of sport.
• Even if your child picks a sport you’re not so interested in, take pleasure in their enthusiasm.
• Don’t expect your child to be the star player – recognise triumphs and celebrate them, but also look for and talk about the positives when your child’s team loses.
• Get involved – it can be really rewarding to get into youth coaching and there are lots of courses aimed at working parents who want to learn. Alternatively, support the team by just offering to organise fixtures, book pitches at the park or just help put the goal posts away after a Sunday morning game.
Whether it’s football, tennis or even rugby, most youth and school-based sports clubs offer mixed or parallel team sessions these days, so this advice applies to both girls and boys. As the recent Women’s World Cup Finals showed us, anyone can make it their goal to bend it like Beckham!