How to Get Children into Playing Sports

frgfegetwgwetDid you know that by getting your child to love sport, you could add four to ten years to their life? It sounds dramatic, but this is the real difference that active living makes. It also reduces the risk of disability and serious physical illness, reduces the risk of mental illness, and increases overall wellbeing. It builds confidence and helps children to become more independent, happier people. Yet many parents don’t do it. They may feel that their children are unsafe outside, they may hesitate at the commitment involved, or they may simply not know where to start. The good news is that there are ways around most common difficulties, and getting kids interested in sport is easier than you might think.

Start playing active games early

At its root, sport is a game, and kids love games. These can begin in infancy when they learn to reach for objects, to turn over, to crawl, and to walk. Pushing a ball across the floor in these early days can lead to throwing a ball across the backyard a few years later, or enjoying indoor activities such as table tennis or dancing. Helping kids get active doesn’t need to be all about formal activity. The single most influential thing that you can do is to show them that physical activity is something that you enjoy, and focus on fun.

Help children learn about sports

As they get older and start to take an interest in more formal kinds of sports activity, do what you can to show children the variety of sports that are out there. Use television and the internet as well as seeking out opportunities to watch sport live. Learning about lots of different sports makes it easier for children to find sports that feel appealing to them personally, and that they can imagine themselves taking part in. If possible, give them the chance to try anything they express an interest in, even if it’s a more simplified version.

Think about body type

If your children want to find sports that they can excel in, a realistic balance has to be struck between what excites them and what their bodies are built for. This will become clearer as they grow and their natural abilities emerge. A small, lightly built child is never going to become a college football star, even if the occasional junior-level game is still fun. A large, heavy-boned child will never be a prizewinning jockey. Some degree of natural flexibility is needed for gymnastics, but there are other sports in which most children can do well with enough effort. Don’t discount the prospects of disabled children, who may do well if they play to their strengths.

Find the right school

School can make or break a child’s interest in sports, so it’s important to find the right one. A good school will provide lots of different sporting opportunities, encourage all its students to do their best, and take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, which too often puts kids off developing their skills. The Stamford American international school in Hong Kong takes advantage of the diverse backgrounds of its students to offer a highly varied sports curriculum. Other types of school may have more locally focused programs, which can still be very good if your child has compatible interests. Look at the extra-curricular activities organized by staff as well as the official ones.

Explain why hard work is worth it

Because they lack life experience, it can be difficult for children to understand that working hard at things that are difficult can help them make major improvements in their skills. Adults need to explain this in a way that accounts for their difference in perspective, not lecturing but inviting them to use their imagination and relating the experience to familiar things. A child who loves books, for instance, may recognize that the effort of learning to read is worthwhile, and thus better understand the point of committing long hours to practicing a sport. When success comes, it provides a useful object lesson for multiple areas of life.

Don’t take it personally

When encouraging children to succeed in sports, it’s important to remember that this is about them and not about you. Research has shown that some parents try to live through their kids and fulfill their own thwarted sporting ambitions by pressuring them to achieve. This is not only unfair but also tends to be counterproductive, and there’s a risk that it will put kids off sport altogether. There will be times when you need to push them to stop them falling short of their goals, but make sure that it’s really their needs and ambitions that are at the center of things.

Provide plenty of praise

Too much pressure can become a form of bullying and leave kids who are genuinely doing their best feeling distressed when they fail to win everything. Chiding them for failures is not the way to help them improve. Praising them for successes is far more effective, and will also help you to have a positive, healthy relationship with them. Success doesn’t need to mean winning first prize all the time. It could mean beating personal records, improving on personal average performance, or simply working hard. Few things motivate children more effectively than the knowledge that their parents are genuinely proud of them.

With your help, your children could develop a passion for sport that will serve them well throughout life.

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