LA Times: Big Games for Little Athletes

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The LA times reports on the impact of introducing concepts of competition too early for toddlers.

In the center of a field of fake grass, about a dozen 3- and 4-year-olds are attempting to learn soccer -- or a reasonable facsimile. Kicking and chasing after scaled-down balls, some charge ahead with glee, expertly guiding the balls with their feet. Others scoot along hesitantly, their faces masks of intensity.

"Score it in the goal! Score it in the goal!" the coach yells excitedly nearby. One boy nails the goal with a single kick, while another takes three to four attempts. A little girl in pigtails scoops up one ball with her arms and simply drops it into the net.

Such is organized sports for preschoolers. Parents may be crazy for it, but childhood development experts ... less so.

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But sports for 3- and 4-year-olds should be very different from sports for older kids.

Parents must make sure that the activities are developmentally appropriate and that the coach can teach a range of skill levels, because children don't progress equally, Branta says.

All 3-year-olds, she points out, can't kick a moving ball -- and having to throw and catch a ball could be frustrating for some. When teaching kids, an emphasis should be placed, she says, on the quality of movement: "How the skill is done, where is the body positioned, where does the foot land -- some understanding of form and technique."

Greg Payne, a professor of kinesiology at Cal State San Jose, adds that sports for 3- and 4-year-olds shouldn't include competition or pressure.

 

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