A common criticism I hear of today’s youth is that their activity levels pale in comparison to those of their parents as children. Kids growing up in today’s world, a world oversaturated with television screens, smartphones, tablets, and computers, have far more options when it comes to leisure time. With all the bells and whistles tech toys boast, “playing outside” seems a far less attractive option than it once did. More and more often, I field laments from frustrated parents centering on the theme of “my kid just doesn’t want to exercise.”
So what’s a parent to do? Should you push your children down the path of physical activity? Should you take your hands off and let the child decide? As a coach and a personal trainer, you owe it to your child, and to yourself, to at least try and get him/her involved in something physical. Just as there are different types of children, there exists a multitude of options where physical activity is concerned, and none of the options within that multitude is a bad one. Some children thrive in organic, non-organized play, such as playing tag or capture the flag. Others blossom in one-on-one training, such as private swim or tennis lessons. Others still shine in organized or team sports.
It comes down to knowing your child, and having the patience to allow him/her to find the right fit. For example, as a swim instructor, I’ve seen kids perform with mediocrity in private swim lessons who, when transplanted into group lessons, really benefitted from the social aspect of learning with peers. Vice versa, some kids get lost, distracted, or intimidated in groups, but excel when in a one-on-one setting. Most children are competitive and find physical activity far more engaging when a scoreboard or stopwatch is a component of the activity. Yet some children prefer to exercise and participate in athletic activity solo, without the pressure of side-by-side competitors. As a parent, no one knows your child like you do. When deciding what sports or activities might be best, consider the settings in which he/she is typically happiest. Perhaps it is not that your child doesn’t like physical activity, but that he/she has yet to be placed in the proper environment for his/her personality.
Once you’ve determined the right type of environment (ie. one-on-one lessons, organic playtime, team sports), then you can more successfully determine what specific sport or activity your child should try. Ask for their feedback, and give something (anything) a try. If it sticks, excellent! If not, keep trying new things until you find what does. Sometimes this takes a while, but perseverance pays off. Once your child has developed an interest in something, reciprocate that interest and continue to allow your child to invest. For example, if your child has decided that an organized team sport is right for him, be sure to make getting him to practice and games a priority, watch his games and cheer him on, and encourage him to keep educated on the sport outside of just practice. The more you demonstrate your investment (this does not necessarily have to be in the financial sense of the word) in your child’s participation, they more license you give them to fully invest themselves.
While finding ways to keep your child active is not always easy, it is always worth it. The obvious benefits, of course, are the physical ones of weight management and physical development. However, physical activity often teaches social, personal, and collaborative and leadership lessons that children may not otherwise have the opportunity to learn. Just keep patience and perseverance, and never cease to encourage your children. After all, most adults can reminisce on fond memories spend exercising as kids. We owe it to our children to give them the same memories to look back on one day down the road.