Unless a child cannot physically do any activity for health reasons, there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be introduced to sport at a young age. In my opinion, the benefits of starting young far outweigh any negatives – if there are indeed any at all.
Being one of four children, my parents had all of us learning to swim as babies – purely for safety reasons initially, before it progressed into local competitions against other schools and swimming clubs as we got older.
Besides swimming, we were also encouraged to participate in a range of team sports including netball, softball, little athletics and gymnastics. The memories I have from being involved in all of those are ones I’ll cherish forever for a variety of reasons.
I didn’t need to grow up in the era of iPhones, iPads and iPods to understand that sitting around after school every day and watching TV wasn’t a healthy and worthwhile way to spend my childhood (and would lead to a very unhealthy teenager and adult if I didn’t start moving). Now as a mum of two growing boys, I can certainly see how important it is to be a good role model, which is why I followed in the tradition of my parents and encouraged them to play any sport that interested them.
Without knowing it, from the age of five I was learning life skills and values that I still draw on today. I can still remember the top 10 rules that my first swimming coach, Roy Holland, had written on a chalkboard at the end of the pool for us all to see:
- Respect your coaches.
- Respect your teammates and competitors.
- Don’t be tardy and be organised.
- Be gracious when winning and in defeat.
- Believe that anything is possible.
- Positive attitude leads to a positive outcome.
- Work hard.
- Eat well.
- Set realistic goals and have a plan to reach them.
- Have fun.
If you look at these rules, most of them – if not all – still apply in adulthood. I know without a doubt that the values and morals I learnt as a youngster have held me in good stead over the years. Without question, sport isn’t for everyone. But there’s no denying that fresh air, exercise and teamwork from a young age can only have positive outcomes.