Each year, thousands of young Canadian’s travel to local fields, community centers, and clubs, dedicating their evenings and weekends to their favourite sport. Increasingly, children are beginning these organized sport programs before they enter grade-school; meaning sport practices are among the first structured learning environments that many preschool-aged children engage in. To successfully navigate these contexts, children must adopt a number of key social skills, such as active listening, communicating with others, using pro-social language, and exercising conflict resolution, all while taking direction from a non-parent adult (i.e., a coach) – sometimes for the first time. In other words, sport programs – such as Sportball – play an increasingly significant role in introducing and shaping the social development of children before they reach 6 years of age. At Sportball, we specialize in actively teaching and refining young children’s social skills and provide insight on how parents can support the transfer of these skills into the home and classroom.

Social Skill Development at Sportball

At Sportball, children’s social skills are developed from the onset of our classes, and regularly reinforced through coach modelling and repetition. For instance, children begin each class by gathering on a pre-established ‘magic’ line, and playing a simple game of Sportball Says. This activity requires children to actively listen and carefully model their coach’s actions and behaviours, all while engaging in exercise. During warm-up, children gain experience at turn taking, stopping and directing their attention to a coach if/when a whistle is blown, and maintaining an appropriate distance between themselves and their peers, ensuring all children’s safety and enjoyment, and helping children adjust to routine, and rule-following.

Children are also introduced to several sport-specific skills within each Sportball class (i.e., passing and shooting in floor hockey, or dribbling and shooting hoops in basketball), all of which have a pro-social skill tied into their delivery (Coaching with Purpose at Sportball). For instance, when a Sportball coach introduces the concept of passing in floor hockey, he/she will emphasize that communicating with peers and using pro-social language are necessary to effectively do so: “We will be learning how to pass in floor hockey today. Each time we pass, we have to make eye contact with our friend, and say ‘pass please’!” Coaches also lead children through a debrief at the end of each practice, where children each have the opportunity to voice what they learned or liked most about the class. During this time, coaches emphasize the importance of actively listening to one another, and using respectful pro-social language such as saying ‘thank-you’ to each child after sharing.

While each of the above-described social skills are built into Sportball’s curriculum, other social skills – such as problem-solving or conflict resolution – emerge on an ‘as-needed’ basis. For instance, if/when interpersonal issues arise between children (i.e., if children have difficulties sharing equipment or taking turns), coaches use these instances as teachable moments – modelling and discussing the appropriate way that children may resolve these issues.

Transferring Social Skills to the Home and the Classroom

We know that children’s social skill development does not stop once practices end, which is why our coaches briefly meet with parents after Sportball classes to share what physical and social skills were emphasized. To help reaffirm the social skills that children learn in sport classes, researchers suggest that parents should draw attention to and praise children’s adoption of newly learned skills (i.e., treat them with enthusiasm and as achievements)1, which will further support the transfer of these skills from the sport setting, and into other contexts- such as at home, or in the classroom. For example, parents may reflect on Sportball classes with children, and ask probing questions such as, “what did you learn you should do when the coach is giving instructions?” followed by supportive statements such as, “I saw you doing such a great job listening to your coach in practice today!” Parents may also post hypothetical questions to children, such as what they would do if a classmate was not being kind to them, or not waiting their turn. Ultimately, these scenarios – lived or hypothetical – can lead to important teachable moments that parents can help their children navigate and learn from.

Learning appropriate social-skills at Sportball – such as effectively communicating and interacting with adults and peers – are critical skills that children will benefit from having learned before they enter grade-school.

Want to Learn More?

  • Allen, G., Rhind, D., & Koshy, V. (2015). Enablers and barriers for male students transferring life skills from the sports hall into the classroom. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health7(1), 53-67.