How can sport help your baby or toddler?

How can sport help your baby or toddler?

Whether your baby loves rolling a ball around or always wants to make like Spider-Man up the back of the sofa, there's a sport to channel their energies and the benefits go beyond a soundly sleeping tot. Pip Jones cheers from the sidelines

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It's a summer of big sporting events with the World Cup in Brazil and Wimbledon to name but two. What better time to discover the sport right for your little one? It could be you cheering your son or daughter on in future sporting events, but there are also a whole host of benefits for babies and toddlers getting into sport early.

What are the benefits of sport for your baby or toddler?

Have you ever noticed that 'active' tends to be the natural waking state for babies and children, pretty much from the time they can move independently?

They have a lot of energy to burn, and it can be exhausting trying to keep up with them. So with that in mind, it makes sense to get their name down for a few sports clubs, don't you think? Now if this suggestion makes you reach for the Pushy Mother warning klaxon, stick with us. It might seem strange, the idea of getting a baby or teeny tot into sport, but we're not suggesting your child's first full sentence should be an explanation of the offside rule. However, there's a huge range of sporting activities designed for the very young, giving them a grounding for an active future and a love of sport while at the same time boosting all sorts of essential developmental skills.

If you have a young baby, chances are you've started this already with soft play. No, we know that's not a sport as such – no one's ever going to win Olympic Gold for their outstanding dive into a ball pool. But from the time your baby can sit up and begin to control their movements, they can start throwing and rolling balls (and trying to catch them), balancing, climbing, carrying and building with blocks. All these things will boost their strength and motor skills, and help them progress to structured activities.

Thinking longer term, there are many other benefits. Active children tend to behave better, sleep and even eat better. Some research shows that they also tend to perform better in school, because they can concentrate more easily.

Considering how much children have to gain if being active becomes a way of life, starting them young doesn't seem so crazy, does it? But is it necessary to do this in a formal set-up? Is attending a climbing club any better for a child than doing their stuff on a pile of sofa cushions or in the park? Well, yes actually, it might well be, and for a number of reasons.

To start with, it will teach them to listen to instructions. Also, maddening though it is, many young children co-operate more readily with an adult other than their parent (once they've built a rapport with them) – and that
can help build their communication skills. Having goals (whether literally scoring them,or simply the achievement of milestones) can be a great motivator, and keeping children interested is key. However, when children are little it's important that the emphasis is not on competition, as this can be detrimental to their self-esteem. So all good classes for tots take this into account and put the focus firmly on fun. It's also essential that children aren't pushed beyond their limits. Their little bodies may be surprisingly strong, but they tire easily. Many classes will last just 30 to 40 minutes, which is plenty.

As most baby and toddler sports sessions require mum's or dad's involvement, they give you a terrific opportunity for bonding. And let's not forget the other major advantage – after all that action, your mini sporting superstar will be absolutely pooped!

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