Monday, April 29, 2013


For the past three Saturdays I've taken Henry to a programme called "Sportball." Their tag line is "Non-competitive sports instruction for children 16 months - 12 years old." We did it because Henry is a very active little guy who needs more opportunities to run around in a slightly more purposefully way. I've played catch and soccer and even football with him in the past, and he always enjoys it, so Sportball seemed like a logical next step.

At Henry's age level parents participate with their preschooler. There are two coaches and about dozen parent/kid pairs. The format is always the same, we start off by lining up against the wall on one end of the gym (in the basement of a Baptist Church near the beaches). The coaches play a quick little game to remind the kids of the coaches' names and then play a game meant to build listening/following direction skills called "Sportsball says." Next they reintroduce the whistle and the concept that when the whistle blows everybody stops.

Like almost everything else in Sportball, this involves a game, we run down the gym until a coach blows the whistle and everbody stops. We do some quick stretches in place and then the "train" starts around the track. Really this is just a clever way to get the kids running in the same direction around an oval. I have a hard time getting Henry to do the stretches, but boy does he love running in the oval! The next activity involves the kids practicing really basic ball handling skills (like, pick up a ball in each hand and then try to pick up a third ball between them). I'm not sure, but I think the point of this exercise is to get the kids practicing their concentration.

After that the programme varries depending on which sport we are practicing. In the "basketball" class, for example, the kids learned to dribble by knocking the ball downward out of their grownups hands (who were holding in on both sides). Later in the same module the grownups held hoops and the kids would try throwing the ball through them. All this is done in a non-competitive atmosphere. The focus of the kids (at least of Henry) tends to come and go, and is surprisingly helpful to have a coach come around and say to the little guy, "Henry, can you show me how you throw the ball through the hoop?!"

Part of the point of Sportball is to teach the parents how to teach, and I think it's pretty successful in that regard. Some of the really basic skill exercises are simply not things I would have thought of on my own, and their way of talking to the kids is pretty effective. Kicking the ball, for example, becomes "launching the spaceship off the launch pad."

At the end we sit in a circle, do the "Sportball cheer," and receive stickers as a reward. Sometimes if it seems like the kids have excess energy to burn the coaches will do an activity like chasing bubbles.

I see several benefits to all this. First, it actually is a good workout for Henry both mentally and physically. It stretches his ability to focus and follow direction as well as his physical stamina. Second, it's good for me. Few things will get your blood pumping better than literally chasing after your preschooler for 45 minutes. And then there is just the pleasure of playing with your kid. But perhaps the best benefit is the fact that he and I are engaged together in task that takes us outside of ourselves. Sure, he "helps" me with projects sometimes and I certainly play with him, but this interaction has a very different character as we work together to develop skills like catching, kicking, and throwing.

One of the real validations is the fact that Henry enjoys Sportball and looks forward to it. After it's over he usually falls asleep in the car before we get home. So for any of you parents of little kids, I commend Sportball to you--definitely worth giving up your Saturday morning.

It's interesting that sports is a bigger part of Henry's life than it was for me when I was his age. I remember going with my dad to local high school football games a few times, but rarely did he watch sports of TV. Later, when I was in Junior High, our whole family was very into Indoor Soccer, and had season tickets to watch the local team. That became a big part of our family routine. Ah, yes, the Wichita Wings! But these days I'm tend to follow Football, Basketball, and (less religiously) Hockey. Henry recognizes all these sports. (Being a true Canadian, his favorite to play is probably Hockey).

In a couple of weeks we are going to replace Sportball with Henry's first swimming lessons, and I'll report back on how that goes when it happens!

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