Soccer ball

Barely walking again, but kicking a soccer ball

July 29, 2011 — — The days of sandbox games and duck, duck, goose are over – nowadays many young children are preparing to play soccer, basketball and football, even though they have only recently mastered the coordination needed to run in a straight line.

Although at an age when attention spans are fleeting and coordination haphazard, parents across the country have been enrolling their toddlers in programs that teach them how to dribble a basketball, score a goal and pass to a teammate – or at least try to do those things.

Places like Little Gym, Beginners Edge Sports Training, and Lil’ Kickers enroll children as young as 4 months old in programs aimed at increasing mobility and coordination, with the ultimate goal of teaching them specific sports skills and improving their performance. compete against each other. Although most of these institutions stick to a non-competitive, everyone-wins-win spirit, many doctors are concerned that in their efforts to produce super-athletic children, these programs will overburden the children, both physically and emotionally.

“By the time children are 3, 4, and 5, it’s important for them to develop the fundamentals of how we move and coordinate,” says Dr. Ed Laskowski, co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center. “That’s why free play is great, because children move in different ways and learn balance and stability. When you insert them into specific movement training at such a young age, they may not have not be as much variety in their game,” he said. .

The rules, structure and independent thinking required for sport may also not be suitable for the development of children under 5, mental health experts say.

“During the toddler phase, 2 and 3 year olds are very self-centered. They are not ready to master sharing, taking turns and delayed gratification, so to put [them] on a sports team, it’s causing unnecessary stress and conflict,” says Fran Walfish, a family psychotherapist and author in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Proponents of toddler sports and pre-sports programs say that when designed correctly, these classes can be fun, challenging and teach children coordination.

There’s also the simpler argument of keeping young people active: in a time when kids are getting addicted to video and computer games, and childhood obesity is on the rise, how can you get them running around with other kids? it be a bad thing? Add to this that many public schools and daycares have had to cut physical education and sports activities due to tight budgets, and the appeal for parents to enroll their children in super pee wee leagues becomes clear.

“Sports today are in competition with technology, so let’s bring it to the field,” says Len Saunders, mother, author, coach and physical education teacher. “As long as the sport is not shoved down the throats of children, it really isn’t harmful.”

Among the medical experts behind the first sports programs, the emphasis is on getting it right: namely, fostering a non-competitive atmosphere and using equipment and exercises tailored to each level. of age.

Coordination, communication and emotional maturity change so quickly and vary so much from child to child that trying to get a group of 3-year-olds to keep up a football game can be futile and frustrating. for kids and coaches, says Laskowski.

Tee-Ball for Toddlers and Other Pee-Wee Adventures

Beginners Edge Sports Training, an out-of-the-league sports program that offers athletic lessons in Phoenix and area for kids as young as 18 months old, breaks sports down into age-appropriate tasks. Learning to dribble a soccer ball can be practiced using a ball, which moves slow enough for 2-year-olds to follow, says BEST owner Mitch Goldberg.

Smaller balls, squishy balls and balloons are all used as a “training wheels” version of football, volleyball, soccer and basketball until each child has mastered the skills needed to get to the real game.

“Put a bat in the hands of a 2-year-old, that’s something we do, but most of the time we do exercises that improve hand-eye, eye-foot coordination more generally,” says -he. “Teaching anything to a 2-year-old is incredibly difficult.”

“As ridiculous as it sounds” they start scrimmages at the age of 3, even though there is no keeping score, which works, because a lot of players don’t know how to count so well at all. way.

While BEST is unlikely to turn toddlers into fledgling sport pros, Goldberg says, “We’ve received feedback that kids are carrying on and have an edge when they start in league sports at age 6. years, but I can’t really answer the question of whether the program makes kids better athletes,” he says.

But the kids have fun along the way, he says.