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Remember when you were a little kid, and your parents would take you to the park to play? Not only were you having fun, you were developing important motor skills as you ran around, did somersaults, and swung on the monkey bars. Maybe when you got a little older and more coordinated, you’d even play catch with your mom and dad.

But did your parents love you enough to have a couple of sumo bouts against you?

Much like with mental development, the early years of a child’s life are critical in fostering the fundamental skills that underlie athletic ability. This principle has been espoused for years by fitness experts, including Kenta Toyama.

A graduate of Washington State University in the U.S., Toyama developed the programs at Little Athlete Club, a Japanese provider of children’s athletic programs. “There are individual differences as to the most important time for developing motor skills,” Toyama explains, “but the critical period is until around six years old, because the development of the nervous system at that young age is remarkable.”

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Toyama isn’t suggesting that parents start training their kids to play a specific sport that early, though. Instead, he asserts that it’s important for children to do a wide variety of movements in order to develop as many related neural circuits as possible. That variety is the important thing, and it’s not necessary to push children past the level of intensity where they’re having fun playing.

Among the activities Toyama recommends is catching and throwing a ball, as the latter in particular involves a surprisingly complex series of coordinated muscle movements. Playing on the jungle gym is also a great choice, and as long as your toddler isn’t too heavy yet, the trainer also says there are benefits to getting down on all fours and letting your child ride you like a horse, which will foster good balance and posture.

“What I recommend the most, though,” he says, “is pretending to sumo wrestle.”

It’s unlikely that Toyama is actually advocating slapping your kid in the face and throwing him down in the dirt so much as playfully imitating the techniques of Japan’s massive fighters. He’s serious about the value of doing so, however. “Through sumo, children can learn many different skills, such as pushing, pulling, throwing, grabbing, and applying force and relaxing their muscles.”

Obviously, sumo is best done outside, unless your home happens to be big enough that you have space to set up a ring in your living room. But should your kids still manage to make a mess in the house, it turns out even that presents a developmental opportunity, since Toyama also has good things to say about having your kids help out with the housework. “By repeating the fundamental movements in cleaning floors or washing dishes, children’s’ manual dexterity, balance, and skill at handling tools are all refined, and their ability to concentrate is improved as well.”

Besides, if your kids develop a love of sumo that extends to the eating habits of the sport’s stars, you’re going to have way too many dishes to wash by yourself.

Related: Little Athlete Club
Source: Yahoo! Japan/R25
Top image: Wikipedia/Arcimboldo
Insert image: Little Athlete Club