As a karate instructor, sports TV producer, and advocate for physical activity in Cambridge, I am often asked about what is the best sport to put young children in. I have been around and have seen most activities, so I thought I’d share THE BEST SPORT FOR CHILDREN… here is the secret….
There is no “BEST” sport for kids.
However, here are 5 very important elements that an activity that is good for your child must have:
The organized activity must be multilateral in its approach.
This means encouraging the development of basic athletic literacy like running, jumping, climbing, lefts, rights, up, down, etc. Additionally, the development of speed, agility, coordination, flexibility, and overall general fitness is important at this phase of development. There can be the temptation in sports to start specializing too early, sacrificing long-term athlete success.
The activity must be taught in an appropriate way for the age.
Young children are not “little adults”. They have their own requirements based on their experience and developmental age, therefore, the physical requirements and technical aspects of the sport need to be tuned appropriately. In the martial arts we teach here in Cambridge, for example, the use of hypothetical training (i.e. doing moves in the air) is less important than working with a physical stimulus (i.e. kicking a target) because children have not yet learned to think in the abstract (i.e. blocking in the air prepares me for blocking a punch in the schoolyard).
Furthermore, children tend to do things AT each other as opposed to WITH each other (just listen to kindergarteners speak together:). So, a low coach-athlete ratio helps.
…aannnnd…. It must be FUN!! Kids will work harder and longer in a game than in a drill. You’re only young once so keep it enjoyable!
The sport must be taught by someone that can earn your trust.
Your child’s coach or instructor will have a profound influence in your child’s development. This relationship should be a partnership between the teacher, child, and parents, not something that is bought and sold like fast food. My best advice here is to use your gut feelings. If the instructor is qualified (by an agency you actually recognize) honest about the strengths and weakness of your child, seems more interested in the activity than selling merchandise, and communicates with you in a friendly, professional way, then your probably in the right place. Also, take a look at the other children and families involved…do they look like people you can relate to for the most part?
What about next steps?
We are definitely looking for a sport that satisfies your child’s needs now. But, let’s say your kids really excel at the chosen sport, what’s next? Does the club your looking into have opportunities to grow beyond the current program or beyond the reaches of it’s own walls? I have had a lot of children transfer to our martial arts classes after years of practicing elsewhere and then finding out that they can’t compete at sanctioned competitions or their achievements (belts, skills, etc) aren’t recognized in Japan or outside their former dojo. This is definitely a secondary consideration but a question worth asking about at sign up.
… and perhaps most importantly, pick an activity where YOU, the parent, will be their biggest fan!
I have taught and coached for over 20 years and can say with confidence that there is no substitute for parental involvement. Don’t worry too much about picking the perfect sport. The advice from experts is to pick something you think your kids will enjoy…and then keep them going! Cheer them on. Tell them you love to watch them practice and encourage them until they have achieved some measured success. Don’t get in the habit of letting your kids quit, make sure they see their commitments through. No one likes to feel uncomfortable or like they aren’t getting something (kids disguise these feeling with comments like “I’m bored” or “I don’t like sports”) but if you work with your kids, be their cheerleader, in time they’ll get it and you’ll find with success comes enjoyment.
Finally, don’t forget to leave time each day for your kids to engage in free play. Remember, just going out in the yard and on the street for pick up games with friends? Our future needs strong, confident, creative thinkers and a balanced daily activity routine is just what the kids need!
I have designed our karate programs for children here in Cambridge, Ontario based on these (and other) important developmental principles and am proud to say that all 3 of my children now enjoy healthy bodies, minds, and sporting endeavors. If it looks like a fit for your child check this out: