Getting children into sport is generally a desirable thing – as long as it’s done in the right way. But how do you go about encouraging them and, even more to the point, how do you keep up their interest once they’ve made a start?
Well there are various strategies to consider here and each has its merits. But first we should differentiate between sports which are based on games – and those which are based almost purely on exercise for technique and fitness enhancement.
In general, children will tend to exercise more doing things they enjoy – i.e. where the exercise is purely incidental to the fun they’re having anyway. In days gone by, children certainly used to play out more; riding their bikes around the neighbourhood, playing games of hide and seek – and all the rest of it. And whilst this sound like a bit of a cliché, it’s certainly true that today’s children play out less in developed economies. There are myriad reasons or this – but the availability of home-based entertainment is certainly one important factor.
So if you are to get your children into the regime of healthy exercise, it will be a lot easier if you can find something they quite like doing for fun anyway. All children are different, of course. In the case of my own oldest boy, I had no interest whatsoever in rugby – but it was something he got into at school – mainly because that was what the rest of his peer group was really into. He was quite good at it and enjoyed it – so I did all I could to encourage him by turning up at games and watching the big international games with him on TV etc. I would even have a fun bet on the games with betfair.com just to keep life a little more interesting than it would otherwise have been for me! This made it more fun for both of us and it’s surprising just how much you begin to pick up by watching the Six Nations games, for example. And as Betfair is an exchange, it’s fun to take a profit on your bet before the game has even started – if the market moves in your favour of course!
My oldest son continued to play Rugby Union throughout his schooldays and, though he stopped when he went to university – he had built up a solid fitness base and a good group of friends. He also learnt the importance of teamwork and the whole thing gave him a lot more confidence than I think he would otherwise have had – as he was quite a diffident child by nature.
Of course, the same sports don’t work for all children – so it’s really a matter of trying out as many different games-based sports as you can and let the child decides whether something really “grabs” them or not – then it’s a case of simply encouraging them to stay with it. This part of things can be difficult, but it’s important for children to realise that once they’ve made a commitment to a group, club, or even a school team, they really ought to see it through. Obviously, peers are hugely important in this regard. But this works both ways, too. In other words your children tend to meet more positive peers through their sports choices – as well as being influenced in the first place by their peers about those sports choices.
In general, though; if your child is getting good healthy exercise incidentally – whilst doing something they love anyway – then this is a good solution. Team sports like hockey, netball, football, rugby, lacrosse, basketball, junior cricket, and so on are all great potential solutions in this regard.
It may well be, however, that your child prefers to rely on his or herself when it comes to sport – and individual sports are preferred instead. So sports like tennis, squash, badminton, golf etc., can be good choices here – but do try to make sure there’s a club or association involvement of some kind – as this still helps with the socialisation and team working side of things which are as important as the exercise benefits.
If none of this works, then maybe your child will enjoy the endurance sports like swimming, bike-riding, running etc.? It’s surprising just how many children who aren’t great at other sports do excel at swimming. Bike-riding, meanwhile, can be a great means to an end for children who want or need to really get around the neighbourhood to and from school or to see friends. If the roads are safe enough where you live – this is another excellent form of purely “incidental” exercise.
Then again – there are the skill and athleticism based field sports which really suit some children like athletics field events (long jump, high jump, triple jump, javelin, discus, hammer, pole vault etc.). These are great for the socialisation as all kids can find something they’re pretty good at here and joining a club to carry out the activity is really a prerequisite. Then there are other sports like archery, climbing, table tennis, abseiling and a whole lot more to consider. It’s really a case of finding out what they love doing – and it’s not always easy.
If none of this works – how about good old-fashioned bribery? With our two younger daughters, we said we’d double their pocket money if they went swim-training once a week – and this worked. Neither girl is really naturally into games (girls generally seem a little less competitive than boys on the whole) but each goes along to swimming once a week to earn their “pay”. And this works because they get a hard exercise programme and a good amount of camaraderie from the other kids.
Really – it’s whatever it takes to keep them fit and active, because they’ll be glad they did it when they’re older. Just don’t expect them to thank you!