How sports shape a child’s growth | Sunday Observer
International Children’s Day:

How sports shape a child’s growth

3 October, 2021

Every year, we in Sri Lanka celebrate International Children’s Day on October 1 in honour of children who are the most invaluable asset to a nation. The day is dedicated to reminding every adult of their responsibility of building up a better future for children in spheres of their better education, self-development, and social life. The role to be played by the Government, schools, media and the people is immense. Among the other aspects, improving the awareness of the benefits of sports and physical literacy of children to motivate their engagement with sports and physical activities is very important.

As we all are aware, every one of us should possess fundamental skills such as walking, running, writing, throwing, catching and dressing to perform our daily chores effectively. Though we don’t give it much thought, the development of these fundamental movement skills gives young children confidence and competence as they grow physically, mentally, and socially. With the development of these fundamental skills, children can participate in sports and physical activities accurately. Then only children will find enjoyment of engaging in the sports and physical activities, which will help them to grow as healthy and successful persons.

Regular physical activity and sports help children promote healthy growth of bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons, reduce risk of obesity, increased cardiovascular fitness, strengthen the heart and lungs, reduce type 2 diabetes, help prevent cancer, and improve energy levels of children.

A good mental condition allows one to maintain healthy relationships. Good physical well-being improves mood, concentration, reduces stress and depression, and boosts self-confidence, improves memory. Joining a sports team gives a sense of belonging and an opportunity to make new friends and share ideas, learning to accept wins as well as losses in an equal manner. With regular interaction with coaches, referees, and other players, they learn to respect their elders as well as rivals. Their listening and communication skills will be improved. Since sports are fundamentally based upon a set of rules and regulations, children will automatically learn to obey social rules as well as the law.

Fundamental movement skills can be broken down into three categories: locomotion, stabilisation, and manipulation. Knowledge and awareness about these groups of skills are called physical literacy. To developing physical literacy among children, Canadian Sport for Life recommends many activities for children of all ages, including differently-abled children (No one is disabled!). According to the International Physical Literacy Association, May 2014, “Physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.” Following are some of these recommendations.

From toddlers to six-year-old

Children up to six years old need to do activities for fun with toys, for example, throwing and catching. You can pass the ball to a child using your left and right hand by taking terns and see whether they can catch the ball and even throw the ball by themselves back to you. You have to start this process slowly and by staying close to the child. Gradually with the child’s mastering of the skill, you can increase the distance, speed, and repetitions.

This will improve throwing at a target, speed, and ability to synchronise their eye and body movements with their thinking. Balancing is another skill you can practise with this group. First help them to develop balance with your support, as you do when a toddler first learns to walk. Once they can stand without your help and walk, train them to stand one foot, skipping and riding a tricycle and then a bicycle.

From six to nine year

The age group between six and nine years has been identified as the ideal age to develop the hand and foot speed of the children. Children at this age can better understand and express their feelings. They can make smart decisions. It is the right time for you to add the little rules to the games.

This will help them learn and obey the rules. You can encourage them to get them involved in all sorts of sports such as swimming, running, netball, and basketball. They should enhance their coordination, flexibility, balance, agility, speed, and cooperation skills. You can engage them in activities such as throwing, catching, and running.

Throwing: Use different types and sizes of balls and encourage them to throw them to each other at different speeds, angles, and heights.

Catching: You can start with allowing to catch the ball with both hands and then move to catch with one hand and even to catch the ball while moving side-by-side and back-and-forth.

Running: Running can be encouraged to do at different speeds, in different directions, and straight lines as well as curves.

From nine to 12-year-old

At this age, children can be introduced to more advanced sports rather than simple games you play at home. Most children are already mastered their fundamental skills such as throwing, catching, running, and jumping. However, if any child is not already mastered the fundamental skills in a more informal house environment, the teachers or coaches need to go to a basic level and start the training from basics before introducing them to the advanced sport. Once the children are mastered the fundamental set of skills only, they can be introduced to advanced and competitive sports. We will next see what we can do as parents to develop the physical literacy of our children and what can be done by the schools.

As a parent, be a role model

Children initially learn from their parents, siblings, and other adults in the family. If you engage with physical activities and sports as parents, your children will also follow you. Researchers have shown that children’s activities are strongly connected to their parent’s wishes and practices. For example, Stranbdu et al., (2019) found that youth with parents who have empathy for sports have an increased likelihood of being involved in sports themselves.

By studying former male athletes, Messner’s (2002) found that their earliest experiences in sports at their childhood came from male family members, such as uncles and older brothers, who served as “athletic role models as well as sources of competition for attention and status within the family.” Here are some ideas for you to follow.

Play with your children

Reserve a time to play with your children and with your family members. You can do small games such as badminton, and ball games. Rolling a ball to a baby and encouraging active participation in such activity will be your child’s first introduction to the sport.


Always encourage your child to participate in sports activities at school. You can watch movies inspired by sports persons such as coach, A League of Their Own, Bend It like Beckham and Warrior and talk to them with sports inspirational stories. You can even take them to live sports tournaments to show how it happens.

Provide opportunities

Parents also should give opportunities to their children to participate in sports such as taking them to play areas, swimming pools, grounds, and parks.

Continuous support

Your support should be a continuous one. Even after they start some sports at school, your continuous encouragement will be essential.

School administrators’ role

Children need opportunities to participate in sports and to develop a passion for sport and physical play at the school level too. Teachers play a vital role in students’ development of the motor skills needed to be physically literate.

Organise sports events

Most schools are organising annual school sports meets. To develop physical literacy, you need to organise small sports events at least twice a month. Schools can do this by introducing a separate time slot in the school timetable every week.

Physical activity program

Develop physical exercise programs for every student and get all students’ participation. For example, many schools have 15 minutes exercise sessions before starting school every day.


Introduce awards for participating in sports. This will increase motivation and involvement of sports among students. This can be done in different ways. For example, schools can give monthly awards to students who are engaging in sports activities and can introduce different tasks, fun sports, and games and also share sports motivational stories, and show movies to schoolchildren.


School can play a huge role in raising awareness and education of both the children and parents about the benefits of sports and physical activities, new sports opportunities, sports universities, sports events, and tournaments. Schools can organise workshops, webinars, and art and poetry competitions relate to the benefits of sports to students and can organise parental education programs on physical literacy.


Schools can think of ways to support children who participate in sports and physical activities by giving scholarships, finding sponsorships, and financial aids. Schools within their capacities should try their best to ensure that children have access to a wide range of sports.

We all can think of introducing our children to sports as our gift to them on this year’s children’s day. Let’s widen their scope and brighten their future by enabling them on multiple fronts to face their future successfully through grasping the benefits of sports. Happy Children’s Day!