What if Johnny never learns how to do a cartwheel? Or if Janie never scores a goal? Would there still be any value in putting your preschooler in a sports readiness class?
Yes, I say.
In addition to sports offering a fun way for preschool kids to burn off excess energy, here are 20 reasons your preschool-aged child should do a sports readiness class that have nothing to do with learning a sport.
1. Separation. Learning to leave your parent or caregiver in the lobby, bleachers or on a sideline when going into class is the beginning of learning how to separate before a child goes to school. The ability to adjust to new situations is an important part of a preschooler's education.
2. Following directions and rules. Sports teaches kids to follow multi-stepped directions. Going around the obstacle course at a gymnastics class and remembering what to do at each station is far more than gymnastics training. Recalling which part of your body is allowed to touch the ball in soccer and which direction you need to kick the ball is more than just learning the strategy of a sport.
3. Learning safety skills. Listening to the rules of how to keep safe when playing a sport helps children learn how to follow rules at home and school. Understanding that helmets are worn when skating or biking, the importance of never going into a pool unsupervised and why it is essential only one child jumps on a trampoline at a time are ways to reinforce to young children the concept of personal safety that is relevant for life.
4. Patience. No one likes waiting, especially 3, 4 and 5-year-olds! Practicing standing in line for short periods of time and containing your excitement as you wait for your turn are just a couple ways sports teaches patience.
5. Working cooperatively. From partner drills to playing a game together, sports teaches kids to work together for a common purpose.
6. Responsibility in cleaning up. Learning to put the balls, cones, kick boards or mats back into a pile is an important skill and one that many parents and kindergarten teachers will be grateful to have their preschoolers and future kindergarten students master next time there are Legos all over the floor!
7. Conflict resolution. It's not easy when you don't get to be first. Or you don't get the pink soccer ball. Or you are unable to stand next to your favorite friend in line. Sport teaches these lessons and helps children learn appropriate ways to resolve their conflicts.
8. Interacting appropriately with adults and peers. Learning to have good manners and speak in a way that is respectful is an important skill for preschoolers to learn. Sports help a child learn to treat the coach with respect and how to navigate social dynamics with their preschool peers.
9. Persistence. In sports, children must try and try again to achieve even the simplest of skills. Catching a ball, shooting a basket, swimming across a pool or performing a cartwheel are not automatic skills for most children. Sports teaches kids to stay with an activity until it's completed.
10. Discipline. Combining listening, respect for rules and patience leads to discipline. When a child has the basics of discipline, self-discipline is the next step: the ability to self-regulate behavior.
11. Coordination. While the development of coordination is often thought of as an important prerequisite for growing an athlete, coordination is also necessary for things having nothing to do with sports, though sports are the best way to develop it. Skills like tying your shoes and writing depend on well-developed coordination.
12. Asking for help. Young athletes learn how to ask for help from their coach and their teammates.
13. Coping with jealousy. Inevitably, another child will learn a skill more quickly, run a race faster or be chosen to lead the line for the day, and your preschooler will not like it. Sports class gives a preschool aged child an opportunity to cope with those yucky feelings and express them appropriately laying the roots for the development of good sportsmanship.
14. Character. A well-executed sports program stresses the importance of doing the right thing, even when the coach isn't looking. Preschool gymnasts begin developing this important skill in class.
15. Resilience. A 4-year-old falling down and getting back up while trying to master a cartwheel or who misses baskets over and over, but tries again all while maintaining a "I can do it" attitude is learning resilience and the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.
16. Grit. When one learns to keep trying in order to achieve a goal, it is called grit. Educators around the nation understand the relationship between achievement and grit. Watching that same resilient 4-year-old persist at learning a cartwheel or shooting the ball is laying the groundwork for a child who possesses grit.
17. The value of effort. Sports are not easy. However, if children try hard, they will see progress. Therefore, they will begin to understand the relationship between effort and success and are well on their way to fostering a growth mindset.
18. Ambition. Setting lofty goals and believing that you have the capacity to reach them is the core of what it means to ambitious. Watching older kids fly around the gym or across the field, pool court or rink and thinking that someday, if you work hard, that you can do that too, is the beginning of ambition.
19. Courage. Sports can be scary and sometime they require us to do things we would rather not. It is when we face something that pushes us out of our comfort zone that we have the opportunity to develop courage. Courage is not only being brave when we fear something, but it is also a trait we can call upon when we have to do something that we do not wish to do, like chores or homework, all things that preschooler will be learning to cope with in the not-too-distant future.
20. Self-confidence. Is it any wonder that a child who develops all of these traits also develops self-confidence? Self-confidence is, simply put, your belief in yourself. If you are able to do class on your own, following the rules and directions, getting along with your peers, understanding that you are an able learner and that failing is OK because you are ambitious and have courage, is it any surprise that you are self-confident?
So, while I hope all of the Johnnys and Janies enrolled in preschool sports programs learn great basic skills and have a lot of fun doing so, in the last analysis, these 20 traits will serve them well no matter where their athletic careers go.