The 1st time I SAW or WALKED INTO a fitness gym was when I was 24 years old. The 1st time my daughter SAW it was when she was just 2. At 5 years my daughter has been to a Live game of Basketball when I did so now at 34 years. I have not even 'seen' a stadium ever before.
When I notice all the things she can do with her body at age 5, I realize the skill set I have missed out on. I haven't tumbled till date but she does. She knows so many stretches, body exercises which I haven't seen, heard, known, or done. Although I was lucky to have a great personal trainer from age 24 to 30, yet, coming to USA, I understood sports and physical fitness in a new way. In India, there is little awareness of how important physical arts is, esp. among the lower middle class + the resources are limited; many are way too costly for a middle class family to afford.
My daughter began Martial Arts at age 4. I must admit that we have been lucky to have found great instructors for her. She is not very sports inclined but she has grown to like it in the last one year. I have witnessed phenomenal confidence and growth in her. I could not have envisioned that when I got her started. Little did I expect her to reach a stage of competing, sparring, or doing many of the 'sporty stunts' that she does. It may be very common for kids in USA to know and acquire these skills at a young age but for someone like me - coming from a totally different background, it is a 'Happy Achievement'.
13 Advantages of Introducing Toddlers/Children to Sports and Physical Fitness:
- Creates Body Awareness: By moving our body in different and challenging ways on a regular basis, we learn to 'understand' our body. This creates more physical awareness and strengthens one's sense organs. I grew up in a culture and country where the focus on the mind was a lot more. In fact, the focus was on academics which is primarily the 'brain' vs. the mind. As a result, I learnt little about my body, I loved it less, I knew it less, I understood it even lesser!
- Boosts Self-confidence: In countries like India, we have outweighed the importance of academics and not balanced it out with sports or physical education. Even when I played a lot of throw-ball and handball in school, I never learnt the strategic warm ups which I witnessed in my daughter's class. It also came to my knowledge that many of these warm-ups are commonly used across different sports training in USA.
E.g. I have never done push-ups for a sports warm up; did not even know how to do them since I have not seen them before. I was unaware of kick-boxing, pilates, or zumba; jumping over fences or walls is what 'Heroes' do in Movies, not in real?!
Observing the students and instructors in my daughter's class, I realized that being able to move our body in unique and challenging ways inculcates a lot of self-confidence within us! Hence, the best age to start this is Toddler-hood / Early Childhood.
- Facilitates Self-Love: There is no doubt that being physically fit and knowing the tricks of the game makes us feel good. Sports and Exercise has that 'feel good factor' which you want your kids to 'stuff' in their subconscious early on in life. Early learnings are the best learnings because they get submerged quickly into the subconscious mind as a 'way of life'. Creating that feel good factor as a way of life in early childhood means GIFTING them with a Life-Long Skill of Loving Themselves.
- Stress Buster:
Exercising gets our brain to release endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that make us feel optimistic and reduce our negative feelings. We must understand that children go through their own kind of stress. Not only do they have massive physical changes to adapt to, they also have to deal with our 'crap!' L-O-L.
E.g. How many times in a day do we command and instruct our kids? How many times do we throw our 'Anger-Tantrums' at them?
Besides, they have school challenges to cope up with. Let us empathize with all the challenges that kids go through.
- Easy to Train: Kids naturally move around a lot. They have supple bodies. This makes training their bodies a lot easier. The younger the age, the better the outcome. Professional training ensures that they get age appropriate exercises to build on.
- Self-Protection: Self-defense techniques impart skills for self-protection which may be used any time in life - even years later! By witnessing her Taekwondo class, I realize that martial arts has several elements of sports embedded in it. It is very much a sport that almost anyone can learn. From knowing 'Akshay Kumar's' Martial Arts training, I always imaged that Martial Arts is an 'Elite Sport', meant for the 'Chosen' few. On the other hand, I believe, even if children were to learn any other sport, they would have an advantage in self-protection over someone who doesn't. Regular and long-term sports training, creates a sense of 'flexibility and quickness' of both the body and the mind - a skill that can come handy when one needs to self-protect.
- Builds on a Possible Future: We may introduce our children to sports just for the love of or the benefit of sports. However, children may develop a deep connection with it. It could create the stage for a future in The Sports Field or expose them to early skills to be used later in inter-collegiate sports. Several colleges and universities also have extra credits for students who play and excel in sports. There is really nothing to lose here!
- Sharper Mind: The body and the intellect are closely connected. The reason why regular exposure to sports improves on concentration, focus, and memory is because it requires us to have CONSTANT PRESENCE OF MIND to indulge in any physical exercise. Can we close our eyes for 2 split seconds when jumping, running, tumbling? We must be conscious of every action, every landing, every move and this strengthens the brain muscles which comes to great advantage in Academics!
- Healthier Body: I doubt I need to write more about this. We all know the health benefits of sports and physical fitness. There is no doubt, no two ways about it!
Remember, children differ in their liking for sports. One child may like basketball while another may bend towards tennis even when both are equally sporty by nature. Sometimes it requires 'trial and error' to discover which kind of sport is best suited for a specific child. Honestly, I forced my daughter into Martial Arts when she had just turned 4. But now she loves it!
I also learnt that besides just learning self-defense, she learnt a cart-full of other things: better character, discipline, moral values, social skills, etc. Part of the reason she does not want to part with her Taekwondo class is because she loves The Energy of that place - the instructors, the method of teaching, her classmates, etc. Hence, remain curious to discover what your child will enjoy. Do not presume or jump to conclusions too quickly.
E.g. It took my daughter a good 3 months to begin liking class. She even cried out her fears the first few weeks but now she is so enthusiastic to go to class. I dare not talk about stopping class - I will have her worst face ;)
- Family Bonding: Sports can be a great way to have fun with family. My daughter thoroughly enjoys our baseball games in the backyard or simple catch and throw. It requires little equipment and space, to create unique memories!
- Special Needs Kids or Special Skill Set: Specific sports are excellent for kids with 'Special Needs'. E.g. ADHD, ADD, Autism, Celebral Palsy, etc.
Sports can help them increase their focus and concentration which is one of the most important coping skill for them to develop for healthier functioning. Children also learn to solve problems and work in groups while playing sports. As adults, we know how important it is to have skills for team-work. Our career in IT, teaching, management, nursing, or at home within the family - requires us to resolve problems by working in harmony with other individuals. Learning to balance our needs with others, solve problems effectively, and create healthy win/win solutions is what Sports implicitly teaches us. How cool! This means that our little ones get complementary leadership training while learning sports.
- Provides Opportunity to Socialize: There are several sports that promote group involvement. When kids meet other kids they learn to interact, to greet, meet, adjust to other personalities. This is a skill we need at every stage of life. Going to school, at work, staying home with family, social and romantic relationships later in life are all about being 'Social'. Socializing skills are intertwined with Self-Confidence.
- A Competitive Spirit: Sports builds that competitive spirit which we want to have in today's world. The aim is not to create an attitude of a 'Rat Race' but to develop a Love for Healthy Competition, a Love for Winning and also the Grace of Losing Humbly. Sports teaches it all. Who knew that playing sports for extended childhood hours would help us in our field of marketing, insurance, IT, selling, etc.?!
Hence, I cheer - "Hip Hip Hurray! Go Sports! Go Toddlers!"