Don’t let fear of injury restrict children from exploring their environment or playing games.
“Diya, don’t climb on that. You will definitely fall,” screamed Diya’s mother, obviously scared her daughter would fall off the ladder she was trying to climb.
This is a classic example of a parent restricting a child from trying a simple and natural movement like climbing.
It seems that the modern parent is also terrorised by the most functional movement: running. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard my neighbour tell his three-year-old son that he will fall and break his bones if he runs.
Such reminders only inhibit children from trying different movements. There is no point in complaining later that children are inactive.
Fear of injury is one side of the coin. The other side sees some parents push them into serious sports at a very early age to live out their dreams through their children. There has to be a holistic approach when it comes to encouraging kids in sports.
Dr. Kannan Pugazhendi, sports medicine consultant, says, “Informal training starts very early. Right from the time the baby starts moving, the neural circuits start mimicking movements. So just let them be. As a parent do not restrict the child; but provide a safe environment for him/her to explore. If you are looking at a particular sport, then 6-7 years is when the child will be ready, as the myelination essential for proper functioning of the nervous system is complete. But for something like gymnastics, training should start as early as four years, because 13-14 years is the peak.”
Another piece of advice he offers is to give kids a chance to play two or more games. “Let them choose their favourite sport.”
Remember, muscle innervation — the communication between the nervous system and the muscles — is complete only by 6-7 years. Only then are they ready for activities that require a lot more neuro-muscular coordination. Between 10-12 years, the reflective motor patterns are conditioned and kids are prepared for more organised sports. For example, racquet games that require hand-eye coordination.
This demands more strength, which leaves only one option: start resistance training. There are many misconceptions when it comes to resistance training for children. One is that children should not work with weights since it might stunt growth. Dr. Pugazhendi clarifies, “Children start resistance training from day one of school. Weigh the school bag to know what I mean. Resistance training does not stunt growth. Regular body weight resistance exercises like pushups and sit-ups are usually taught in elementary school. Injuries are caused by wrong training and poor coaching.”
Moderate intensity strength training can help mineral deposits in the bones, thus increasing bone density. It improves motor skills and actually enhances sports performances. Introducing strength training at the pre-puberty stage helps girls develop the strength required for sports and, in the long run, prevents osteoporosis. In fact, studies show that children who participate in strength training programmes have a lower risk of injury compared to children who do not participate.
Though chronological age is decisive enough for organised training, biological age should also be kept in mind. It also takes adequate cognitive abilities to understand cues and techniques and adequate emotional maturity to develop a sporting spirit. Children should be encouraged to participate instead of competing. This will reduce pressure to win and allow them to enjoy the sport.
Kids tend to copy their parents. If you get back home only to sit and watch TV, the chances of your child being active are bleak. So start introducing children to a playground, and some fun exercises like catching games, dodge ball and football early. As a bonus, children who are into sports end up with amazing muscle memory in later years, and develop habits that will mould their lifestyles.