How to give your child sports confidence


Caroline Oglethorpe, Head of Pre-Prep, reminds us that sports confidence can be taught and shares some fantastic games that you can play with your children this summer to encourage a 'can do' attitude.

As parents, we often worry about our children when they don't seem to be progressing quite as fast as their peers.  Sometimes, when raising children in exactly the same way, it can seem baffling that one of our offspring seems naturally sporty and is riding a bike at three and a half, when the other can’t seem to do it even aged seven.  Or perhaps you have a child that seems to hang back whilst others are playing football.  You know they want to join in but they just don’t have the confidence.

At the bottom of this article we suggest five excellent games you can play with your child to help them develop sports skills and the all-important confidence.  However, before we get on to that, it is good to remember that development in sports is similar to how one might learn to read. Everyone learns at a slightly different pace and this is partly to do with each child's own physical development, and also where the child is on their sports learning curve. 

Here in the Pre-Prep at Westbourne House, for ages 2 ½ to 7, we know that modelling sports skills works and so our teachers model all sports skills from catching to skipping.  We also support children by letting them learn at their own pace and by creating many different opportunities during each week to practise. So if your child seems to have trouble skipping from one leg to another, for example, the answer is probably that they aren't physically ready but you can keep modelling these skills. Given time, they will certainly reach the point in their development when they will manage.

Of course, a huge part of encouraging children to learn sports skills is keeping it fun.  As a school, we want to instil in the children a lifelong love of sport, and not just for the children who will go on to pursue sport more seriously.  In September, we are excited to be introducing a new programme for all our children in the Early Years that combines our passion for literature with sport.  Like all children, our pupils love stories and the brilliant part of this engaging programme is that through fun and imaginative stories the children will be encouraged to try out different activities that practise various sporting skills from bilateral coordination and spatial awareness to hand eye coordination, as well as how to work as a pair or team and build those all-important interpersonal skills.  As the children move into Years 1 and 2, we are lucky to have the specialist sports teachers from the Prep School visiting each week to enhance their learning. This also allows us to show the children the many, varied ways you can enjoy being active whether this is kayaking on our lake, orienteering, climbing on our wall, dance, gym or ball sports.

By the time, our children have reached the top of our Pre-Prep School, they have the foundations of sport, the feel-good factor, the core skills that will enable them to feel confident to do their best and unhesitatingly 'have a go' at any sport. 

You can give your child a huge helping hand by having fun with them practising sports skills.  The sports confidence they will gain will enable them to do their best and join in happily when the time comes, whether this is joining a team or going to a new club. However, as many of us know, it can be hard to 'teach' your own children.  So here are some of our ideas of games which effectively do the teaching for you, building gross motor skills, reflexes, anticipation and balance:

  1. Blow up a balloon or two.  Play a game of keep the balloon up in the air, and as your child gets more practised, add in more balloons.  You can also play a brilliant game of slow tennis between two children with a balloon and a wooden spoon.
  2. Introduce some basic football skills with any round ball.  Modelling how to kick a football with the inside of your foot.  You can also play a fantastic game of happy feet, where you start with a foot on top of the ball, and then hop to replace it with the other foot. How many touches can you do in 30 seconds?  Practise transferring the ball from one foot to the other. 
  3. Catching can be one of those skills that takes some children longer to master than others.  Show your child how you can make a cup with your two hands together, as if you were collecting water from a tap.  This is the correct way to catch a ball. For this game, you can use any ball of any shape and size. Start opposite one another and very close. Throw the ball to your partner and when he or she manages to catch it, you take a small step back.  If you miss, you take a step towards one another.
  4. Hit the target!  Make a target. For younger children it could be an open box on the floor, for older children perhaps some marks or stickers on the wall.  See how many times you can get balls / bean bags / paired socks into the target.
  5. This is a group game that develops skills naturally without the children realising they are doing it!  Map out a large circle with beanbags or markers of some kind. Give every child a round ball. The aim of the game is to guard your ball and try and kick someone else’s ball out of the circle.  The children will learn, soon enough, that they have to control their ball by keeping it close to their feet, whilst looking for chances to strike someone else’s ball out.

If your child is aged 5 - 8 years old, you might be interested in some further reading!  Kevin Smith, Head of Boys’ Sport at Westbourne House, has written a booklet which aims to develop sports confidence.  There are many more games and skill development ideas inside. To buy a copy, visit


Building sporting confidence
Building sporting confidence
Building sporting confidence