Dr Amanda Gummer explores the importance of engaging children with sports from a young age and asks 'can toys help Team GB?'

Good Toy Guide: Growing the grass roots

Following the success of the Sochi Winter Olympics, eyes are now turning towards Brazil, both for the hotly anticipated World Cup and the lead up to the Olympic Games 2016.

But even so, how can we ensure our perennial problem of grass roots engagement in sport is addressed, particularly for girls, who seem to drop out of sport at a great rate from the age of seven?

Having clubs and facilities is one thing, but unless children are generally active and confident in their abilities to engage in the sport, these clubs are doomed from the start as children won’t even get through the doors.

Active toys can help children develop a range of skills: co-ordination, balance, flexibility, strength etc, as well as strategy and social skills such as learning to win and lose well, team work and importantly, confidence.

Without the confidence to have a go at these sports in the first place, children will never know whether they have a talent for them.

Active healthy lifestyles are key, but toys that promote specific skills, such as swingball, trampolines, balls, bicycles and skates give children a real head-start when they first try ‘real’ sports as they have already learned some of the skills underpinning those sports in a fun, non-pressured way.

Toys that really work well are those that can be used indoor and out, as well as with friends and alone.

Toy companies looking to develop sporty toys need to make sure they are age-appropriate and develop skills in the natural order: gross motor skills before fine motor skills; jumping before hopping; two handed catching before one handed catching, etc.

So, when developing the range or stocking your shops, look at the active toys and make sure there is something for all ages across the different skill sets, and let’s get those grass roots growing again.

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