We all know that exercise is good for adults. But for a child it’s even more important – if not more so. Besides helping them build strong bones and muscles, being physically active helps kids to improve their balance and gross motor co-ordination, and it has mental benefits in terms of teaching them things like social skills, determination and teamwork.
While most kids are naturally inclined to be active, there’s an increasing belief among children (and their parents) that they need to be very good at a particular sport in order to participate. This defeats the purpose of sport though: it should be an enjoyable activity that all children should be encouraged to take part in, no matter what their athletic ability.
So as a parent, how can you encourage your children to be a “casual athlete” rather than pressuring them to be an elite one? Here are six ideas:
Teach your children the value of participation
A valuable lesson for children to learn is that it’s not the result they achieve in sport that’s important – it’s that they enjoy taking part, and that they have a good attitude to playing within a team or when facing competition. Take the pressure off your children to achieve a certain sporting result, and rather emphasise the enjoyment factor. Adopting this attitude means they’re more likely to live an active lifestyle long into adulthood, too.
- Do exercise as a family
This could be as simple as taking a family walk round the neighbourhood, or cycling in the park together. You could also get your family involved in more structured, organised events – for example the 5km Parkrun on a Saturday morning (even if you push your baby in a pram). There’s also the Fedhealth IMPI challenge which is held throughout the country from early April (until November), and the whole family can get involved. The adult events include a variety of obstacles designed to test you physically and mentally as you navigate over 20km of hills, water, ropes and walls! Then there’s also an IMPI Mini for children aged 6-10, which is a non-timed loop with smaller, supervised obstacles.
Some children absolutely love team sports. Others may not like swimming. Still others may prefer to be active in unstructured natural surroundings rather than on a sports field. Whatever it is, help your child to discover the physical activity that gets them excited and that’s fun for them to do. Beyond just the sports offered at your school, find out about extramural sports classes in your neighbourhood – whether it’s rock climbing, lifesaving or tap dancing – and let them do a trial class to see how they like it.
- Make exercise part of your everyday life
Exercise doesn’t just need to be in a formal sports setting: it could mean walking to school, to the shops or to friends’ houses together rather than driving, or even walking up the stairs rather than taking the lift. You could also organise weekend trips where you camp and hike while you’re there, or go to the beach on weekends where your kids can swim, surf or kayak. Anything that gets you out of the house and active will fit the bill here – and it will help you carve out more quality time with your family too.
- Lead by example
The best way to illustrate the idea of the “casual athlete” to your kids is to lead by example. If you can show them that it’s possible to enjoy being active no matter what your ability, then they’re more likely to do this in their own lives too.