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Introducing a child to competitive sports

By the time the average child is two years old, his gross motor skills are close to being developed. He can climb steps alone, holding on to the stair rail, jump and land on both feet and kick a ball. By age five he can ride a tricycle, throw a ball and dress himself completely. His social skills are also pretty well developed and he enjoys playing with and competing against others. He has lots of energy and can understand games with rules.

At this age, the child may begin to show interest in some type of sport and his parents may take this as a signal to introduce him to sport. They may enrol the child in a competitive program and encourage him to win. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as the parent does not push too hard. Young children need to acquire an awareness of and desire for physical fitness, team play and discipline, all of which come with involvement in sports. However, many parents whose dreams of becoming an Olympian were never realised, try to live out these dreams through their children.

Therefore, the child who initially joined the soccer team to have fun, soon finds himself engaged in fierce competition against his friends, and the game is no longer fun. If he has a coach who is also keen on winning, his chances for enjoyment are diminished even more. The child now has to sacrifice his other interests for the good of the team. He has very little free time and his childhood days seem all but over.

The child who has a strong, competitive drive may not mind all of this. He may push himself as hard as his parents and coaches want him, to the exclusion of everything else. By the time he gets to high school or college, the goal of winning is all that matters. He may even take steroids or other performance-enhancing substances in order to come out on top. At the other extreme is the child who couldn't care less about winning. He just wants to enjoy the game, and if he cannot do that, he may become frustrated and give up on sports or outdoor activities altogether.

Parents can strike a balance between pushing their child too hard and not getting him involved in sports by first making sure their child is developmentally ready. A three-year-old who still takes an afternoon nap is not ready to participate in organised sport that starts around his nap time. Also, you have to be sure that your child is physically strong enough to withstand the rigors of the sport; that he is able to eat something about an hour before the game starts and that he has enough to drink.

For the older child, you should find out what he is interested in before enrolling him in a sport. Also, know your child's temperament. Is he the competitive type or is he more laid back? Is he suited for organised sport or would he prefer spontaneous play with his family or friends? Helping your child love sport and exercise has a lot to do with your approach. If you come on too strong, you may either intimidate him or turn him off, neither of which will do him any good.


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