For moms who are thinking about getting their little ones into a sport, take it from me and put them into soccer. As an 11-year travel team veteran turned youth soccer coach with a background in exercise physiology, I can attest to the benefits of the sport for kids of all ages. But if you have a really little one, you'll want to know about the benefits of playing soccer for toddlers. Turns out, it's more than just running around and squealing.
When my son was a year old, I put him in soccer classes which were, yes, really just babies playing with balls because what else can you expect from a baby soccer class? But even at such a young age, while he wasn't exactly playing soccer, getting exposed to the sport even a little bit was great. For starters, it was something to do after his morning nap and it got us out of the house, but he was also able to be social and practice sharing and working with the group to get all the balls into the net. It was his first team sport experience, and it was equal parts adorable and beneficial.
Fast forward to last fall when I volunteered to coach his soccer team. Getting certified for the various coaching trainings was deceptively difficult and tiring, but so worth it. As a retired soccer player, sharing the game with my kid was, hands down, one of the best mom experiences to date, but showing how awesome girls can be was pretty cool, too. That experience showed me just how awesome soccer is for even the littlest of kids for so many reasons. But don't just take my word for it — I checked in with David Hauptman, the owner and founder of Fold-A-Goal, to find out more about just how soccer benefits toddlers.
1. Improves Motor Skills
Soccer requires running and using your feet to manipulate the ball. Soccer is a great skill for any child, but especially children who need a little more help developing their motor skills, according to an article in Frontiers in Psychology.
2. Helps Brain Development
In soccer, you have to be able to think fast and problem solve in a pinch, and practicing this skill will allow kids to learn how to overcome challenges, the same article in Frontiers in Psychology noted. The sport also requires kids to learn visual-spacial awareness, as well as foot-eye coordination.
3. Improves Bone Density
In a 2016 study conducted by Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, found that children who participated in "high-impact, weight-bearing activity" such as soccer "had higher bone density scores." Hauptman agrees and says soccer can "improve the density and strength of our bones — an essential for rapidly growing small bodies."
4. Helps Build Social Skills
Soccer doesn't really become a team sport with actual assigned positions until kids are a little older — around 8 years old — but for the younger kids, soccer requires learning how to share the ball with friends and taking turns "scoring" goals. Hauptman says soccer is a great sport that helps kids "build interpersonal social skills in young children. Studies conducted by the University of Michigan have shown that staying physically active and playing team sports can help children develop important social skills such as leadership, empathy, and communicating effectively with others." For toddlers specifically, Hauptman explains, "this can be incredibly important as they work through egocentric stages."
5. Keeps Kids Healthy
Any form of exercise is great for kids, and keeping your kids healthy is always a top priority. Hauptman says, "Soccer is a great sport for teaching young children the foundations of endurance, strength, and a healthy lifestyle. Not only is soccer great for increasing aerobic capacity, but it can also help build muscle strength."
I mean, there's also the added cuteness of toddlers chasing soccer balls, but that's really a benefit for you.