Carl McWilliam: Toddler should play team sport

Young kids get involved in rugby in Edinburgh during the Rugby World Cup. Picture: Neil Hanna
Young kids get involved in rugby in Edinburgh during the Rugby World Cup. Picture: Neil Hanna
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ENCOURAGING toddlers to take up a team sport such as rugby is a healthy way to develop social skills and boost self-esteem, according to Carl McWilliam

The final Rugby World Cup whistle has blown and now it’s time for Scotland to capitalise on the increased interest in the sport, amid the boys in blue being the last northern hemisphere side standing.

Encouraging children to play rugby at a young age has a whole host of physical and psychological benefits and is arguably vital to the future health of Scottish rugby.

In my homeland of New Zealand, the grassroots game is managed differently; rugby is encouraged in primary schools and heavily-funded rugby community programmes exist. New Zealanders often learn to kick a rugby ball before they can talk and boys and girls have mastered the basics of rugby before the age of six, equipping them with the core skills to join a rugby club and go on to compete competitively in their teens. The winning formula in any sport is to start early and this is perhaps why the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup. In the UK, it seems the choices for team-based sports for two to five-year-olds are often limited to football.

Some parents often worry that rugby is a dangerous sport for young children to play, but rugby at youth level is actually very safe. For younger children, playing rugby isn’t about scrums and tackles. Younger children usually learn a very specific non-contact form of rugby known as “tag rugby”. This replaces the standard tackle with a touch, so there’s no risk of serious injuries and parents can enjoy spectating.

Introducing rugby to young children encourages them to use core skills like balance, agility and coordination. It allows them to improve hand-eye coordination and helps kids become fit and active. It is also important that children of this age begin to develop social skills such as respect, team spirit and cooperation.

Learning a team sport, like rugby, at a young age fosters self-esteem and promotes a healthy sense of competition and motivation that children will use and benefit from throughout their lives. So, if you’re looking to positively impact your child’s development and limit their time indoors watching TV or on the computer, then expand the amount of sports and physical activities that they try when they are young. You never know, they could be the nation’s next rugby star!

• Carl McWilliam is a former professional rugby player and owner of Rugbytots, Scotland.