The reasons for engaging kids in sport are compelling. Equally convincing are the reasons to start kids playing sport early.
- For starters, early habits, are habits for life. Children develop firm habits (both good and bad) by the age of 9. So, the earlier we introduce them to healthy habits, like sport, the more likely it is that children will have these habits for life. The older we get, the harder it is to change our habits or to introduce new ones.
- Healthy habits can also counteract negative influences on health. While it isn’t a guarantee of good health, healthy habits like exercise and good diet can help to reduce negative impacts as we age. So, the earlier we start kids in sport, the better.
- Children can benefit enormously from the social skills, mental health and physical benefits that come with playing sport.
Benefits of sports for kids
Below we’ve put together a list of many of the benefits that kids in sport experience!
- Better vision. Children who spend time outdoors playing, especially organized sports, are less likely to develop vision problems.
- Reduced risk of obesity. …
- Self-confidence. …
- Sporting behaviour
- Fun and enjoyment.
- Increased cardio-vascular fitness
- Healthy growth of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons
- Improved coordination and balance
- A greater ability to physically relax and, therefore, avoid the complications of chronic muscular tension (such as headache or back ache)
- Improved sleep
- Mental health benefits, such as greater confidence
- Improved social skills, and a sport to play with friends
- Improved personal skills, including cooperation and leadership.
Reducing inactivity may be more effective in achieving overall increases in energy levels in young children than putting the emphasis on increasing involvement in sporting activities. Taking steps to reduce children’s sedentary time is important.
Tennis as an early sport
We recommend that tennis, which is considered a late-specialisation sport, is one of a variety of sports which children should play in their early years. Early tennis coaching is about developing the skills for tennis (physical literacy, body awareness and game sense) in the form of fun games and activities. At a young age, many of these activities will happen in a less structured environment where kids can discover and find solutions, rather than through formal teaching. In the early years, many of these activities will involve a wide range of equipment that you may not associate with traditional tennis. You can also expect to see different types of balls being used. Some tennis lessons for young children might look a little chaotic and not like the tennis you were taught. It doesn’t mean the coach is bad – in fact its good!
We suggest that during pre-school and primary school age, children play a variety of sports to help develop a wide variety of skills and experience. For parents worried about pressure and stress of sports in young children, note that junior programmes in tennis are modified (sponge or low compression balls, rules, net heights, court sizes, competition formats) to be age and development-appropriate until the age of about 10 years old or until players reach a level where they can play with the normal tennis balls. There is no rush to become good at tennis and there is certainly no rush to win matches. The early years in a tennis environment are about developing the skills for tennis, not tennis skills.
Active parents, active kids
Children are more likely to participate in sport if their parents are also active, and will benefit when parents increase their own daily physical activity, according to new research by Statistics Canada (https://activeforlife.com/study-active-parents-have-more-active-kids/) So even if you don’t play tennis, or haven’t played since you were a junior, picking up a tennis racket could be a great way to encourage your children to do the same. A CBC report on the study explains that a “child’s level of physical activity rises by 5 to 10 minutes for every 20-minute increase in the physical activity of a parent.” Similarly, children walked an additional 200 to 350 steps for every 1,000 steps that a parent walked.
How to start playing tennis
The earlier you start the better, but it’s never too late. A few, but not all, ways to start playing at any age:
- Tots – this isn’t tennis as such, but is a programme of games and activities in a tennis environment which can be a great introduction to the sport for children aged 3-4 years old
- Juniors – programmes exist for children who start to play tennis, using modified equipment to provide a gentle introduction
- Adults – Tennis Xpress programmes for starter adults also use low compression balls to provide the same gentle introduction to tennis
References for this article
- How to instil healthy habits in kids
- Active parents have more active kids
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