At four or five years old, your active pre-schooler should have increased muscle strength and physical skills. His hand-eye coordination and sense of balance should also be improving — standing on one leg, throwing, catching and kicking a ball should all come more easily to him. He may be eager for new challenges that test his strength and agility.
During this period, his social skills may also be improving, and this makes it a good time to introduce him to team sports. Featuring a more structured format (as opposed to free play where he can engage in whatever interests him), team sports teach kids all about fair play and teamwork. Moreover, it offers children a chance to strengthen their growing bodies with physical activity, and to further develop their stamina as well as gross and fine motor skills.
On any coming weekend, declare a screen-free Sunday (or Saturday), where TVs, tablets and computers take a well-deserved rest. Parents and children can spend part of the day in the outdoors playing a team sport with extended family or friends.
Soccer is probably one of the easiest team sports to get into. It is widely played, popular in this part of the world and suitable for boys and girls. Should your child develop more interest in the sport, you can easily find a soccer clinic or academy to send him to. In the meantime, organise an informal kick, dribble and roll session at an open space with a few of his peers. Explain and simplify the rules of the game (kick the ball into the designated ‘goals’) and demonstrate to your little league of players how to pass the ball to each other. This encourages your young one to practice turn taking and cooperative play.
Even if your preschooler doesn’t quite understand how to play the game and runs in the wrong direction or fails to pass the ball to team members, don’t worry. At this level, it’s not about competition or keeping score. It’s more about getting exercise, socialising with friends and learning some fundamentals of team sports, which will eventually be translated into life skills. However, should your child shine at a particular team sport, it will act as a confidence booster, giving him a greater awareness of his own capabilities and show him he has the opportunity to excel at other things beyond the classroom.
Unlike unstructured free play, team sports have set time limits and rules. Being part of a team requires cooperation among members and encourages friendship. Your child will also realise that a ‘me, me, me’ attitude doesn’t work in a group setting; neither will his team win every single game. Following rules, fair play, how to be a good loser (self-regulating emotions) and respecting others are all bundled into one mini soccer session. For this age group, it is important to emphasize that it is not about winning but sportsmanship and team spirit that matters.
Other team sports to try include basketball — you’ll have to get a mini hoop or one that is height adjustable. Before you introduce your child to team sports, remember that children’s capabilities vary. Don’t push him into playing a particular team sport if he has no interest in it or displays an unwillingness to do so. Try another sport or wait until he is a little older.