The Importance of Sport for Kids

The Importance of Sport for Kids

Sport offers a wide range of physical, emotional and social benefits for kids, as well as creates healthy habits that will last into adulthood. Whilst some children may meet the daily physical activity recommendations through incidental activity or at school, sport provides children with a greater opportunity to be active and experience personal growth.

When can they start?

By about 6 years of age, most children have the basic motor skills for simple organised sports. However, they may still lack the hand-eye coordination needed to perform complex motor skills and may not yet be ready to understand and remember concepts like rules, teamwork and strategies. There is still a range of skills that can be adapted to create modified games, played at a basic level such as running, swimming and kicking a ball, allowing them to be involved until they’re ready for more organised sports.

What are the benefits?

The physical, emotional and social development of children are the most important contributors for why children should become involved in sport. Some benefits that may come from playing sports includes:

– Reduced risk of obesity
– Increased cardiovascular fitness
– Healthy growth of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons » Improved motor skills, including coordination and balance
– Greater ability to physically relax and, therefore, avoid the complications of chronic muscular tension (such as headache or back ache)
– Improved sleep » Boosts brain development which includes increased academic learning
– Emotional health benefits, such as greater confidence and self-esteem
– Improved social skills enabling them to create friendships and have fun » Improved personal skills, including cooperation, teamwork and leadership
– Reduced amount of screen-time and sedentary activities

Which sport should children take part in?

A recent survey found that the top team sports most popular with children aged 6+ are:

– Soccer
– Basketball
– Tennis
– Netball
– Cricket
– Australian Football

However, there’s no one sport better for children than another as long as they are having fun. If available, it’s recommended that children try out a range of different sports to help them find the one that suits them. This then provides a child with plenty of opportunities to try activities out before settling on one as the risks of early sports specialisation include higher rates of injury, increased psychological stress, and quitting sports at a young age.

Parents and guardians: Children can find out about their local sporting teams through their school, sports centre, holiday program, before and after school care service, community/council Facebook page or the local newspaper.

Sport should be for everyone

There is a wide range of sporting opportunities that are inclusive of children of all abilities.

Over the last 10-15 years, there has been increasing support for sporting opportunities that are inclusive of people living with a disability. With the growth of the Paralympic Games, a range of Paralympic and non-Paralympic sports have been adapted for people with disabilities and new events and sports developed.

Disability Sports Australia offers a list of organisations who may be able to support a child with a disability get involved in sport or become more active:

– Deaf Sports Australia
– Blind Sports Australia
– Disabled Wintersports Australia
– Riding for the Disabled
– Special Olympics
– Sport Inclusion Australia
– Transplant Australia

Another suggestion is to check out what the local community offers as exercise and sport businesses and centres can provide great opportunities for those living with a disability to become more active.

Preventing sporting injuries

Adolescents are more prone to injury during ages 15–17 years. There was an estimated 5,770 hospitalisations of adolescents in 2011-2012 as a result of a sporting injury. The most common sporting injuries occurred from football codes (such as soccer, AFL, rugby and touch), followed by hockey and cricket.

Adolescent boys also tend to experience more injuries than girls, with 55% of injuries occurring in boys compared to girls. This is due to a number of factors; more boys involved in contact sports, increased risk taking and larger body mass.

The good news is that tailored injury prevention programs that are included as part of a team’s warm up can reduce up to 46% of injuries in youth sport. The focus of training programs should change from pre- to- in-season. Pre-season training should focus on strength, functional ability and balance training, whilst progressing to functional strengthening during the season. A structured warm up in pre-season should include proprioception, strength and technical skills, whilst ensuring alignment and control is maintained to reduce ankle and knee injuries.

Ask the professionals

Accredited exercise professionals can help to prevent injury for children completing sports. They can provide individualised and tailored strengthening programs to reduce risk of injuries. They can assess your child’s risk of injury by determining if there is muscle weakness or imbalances that could result in injury.

Some accredited exercise professionals specialise in injury rehabilitation and can assist in ensuring a successful return to sport as part of any rehabilitation program. They can help at a club level by incorporating pre-screening and “coaching the coaches” on how to implement injury prevention programs provided by their sporting code.

Accredited Sports Scientists also work in local communities and can help with children and adolescents who are participating in sport at a higher level. Contact your local Accredited Sports Scientist via the ESSA online directory. 

Read more in the Exercise for Kids eBook! Download here. 

Written by Exercise & Sports Science Australia. Peer reviewed by Exercise and Sports Science Professionals.