There are two important things to remember if you’re trying to get your kids into sport:
The first is to find something they actually enjoy doing.
The second is to put them in the moment.
That’s largely it; the rest is usually just about someone trying to sell you something. But think back to your own childhood about sports you played and which have the most fun memories for you; it’s those you enjoyed right? This is the most obvious thing in the world – yet it’s amazing how many well-meaning parents take their kids along to things like swim-training or cross country running each week. These are great if your children enjoy them – but what do most kids enjoy most of the time? The answer is that they like to play.
As homo-sapiens, we arrive on the planet ready and pre-programmed to PLAY! This diminishes with age, but it’s an evolutionary thing. We arrive ready to play so that we learn the lessons we’ll need in adulthood in a safe environment and hopefully quite a consequence-free environment while we are children. This is evolution’s way of preparing us to survive as adult. There’s also something in there about the survival of the fittest – which may also explain why we compete and fight with our siblings – but there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition as part of our play.
So if your children love swimming 40 laps of the local swimming pool or slogging through the countryside on foot then great – but if they don’t – find the games they love.
Remember too that these games don’t need to be all about ultra-fitness. Just getting your children out there playing games with others that they enjoy is an enormous first step for many children in todays’ tablet-dominated, slothful world!
The trick as parents is to coax the children into playing fun games with you and/or with their peers – to gently suss out what they enjoy and what they don’t. Generally speaking, the younger the children are, the more likely they are to want to play with you or their siblings. As they get older – they’ll probably want to spread their wings a little more and play their chosen sports with friends. But hopefully by then you’ll have got them into something they like doing by following the two rules above.
It’s all about enjoyment. The exercise benefits should be incidental to doing what you love (or what you have to do anyway in your life) rather than becoming the raison d’etre. The masochistic fitness side of things may work for some of us as adults – but it rarely, if ever, works with children. So just to repeat – kids love playing and they love playing games for the fun of it. That’s why you’re having the devil’s own job separating them from their I-pads of course! So capitalise upon this love – and put them in the moment.
So, for example, ball games like cricket, golf, baseball, rounders and handball really appeal to some children. They aren’t sports that are all about extreme fitness via stamina, strength and suppleness – but they’re wholesome and they certainly incorporate elements of all three major fitness tenets.
Getting into the sports also helps – once you’ve understood which they enjoy. As an adult, having a small bet on the cricket, for example, can really enhance your interest in the game. The same goes for other sports; doing whatever it takes to get an interest in something you may otherwise find as dull as ditch-water can help fire your child’s enthusiasm for the sport in question.
And don’t be fooled; as much as they may appear and act as if they don’t care – they care enormously about what you think. Again, Mother Nature ensures that children arrive pre-programmed in this life to want to please their parents. This is, again, one of the keys to survival – so capitalise on this too. As little as they may show it – they’re happy inside when you’re impressed with what they’re doing. So reward them for it – give them a treat, tell them how well they did – and assume nothing in this regard. Instead, just tell them how you feel and how proud you are of them for taking their first steps in whatever sport they’ve shown an aptitude and (perhaps more to the point…) a bit of a zest for.
The keys to the exercise kingdom lie in enjoyment of the activity for children – not in the desire to be great at it or in wanting to be fitter, slimmer healthier etc., that all comes later in late adolescence and adulthood. For younger children fun really is where it’s at.
So as a parent, the best thing you can do is to find out gradually what kinds of things they love doing and then, crucially, put them in the moment. This means finding the local club, talking to the school teachers, making the trip to the park – or whatever else it needs. And when they don’t want to go on one dark winter’s evening – bribe them, or do whatever it takes to just get them back in the moment, because once they’re there – you know they’ll love it.