Keep your kids active for LIFE…not just the summer.

Posted on Wednesday, June 26th, 2013  |  

 

kidsfitnessBeing active is a huge component in lifelong wellness. As adults, we know how good we feel when we are active and eat right. Without question, we want the same for our children…and we want what they learn as kids to stay with them for life! Kids are often naturally more active in the summer. We have a hard time getting them to slow down and get to bed on time in the summer months!!! But, how do we keep them active all year round? More importantly…how to we keep them active for LIFE?!

First…it’s important to understand that when it comes to physical activity, children are unique…they are not small adults. With developing bodies and motor skills, children should be given a much different approach to sports skills than young teen children or adults. If we go about this the right way, our children are more likely to be active throughout life!

Here are a four points to keep in mind when parents think about sports and physical activity programs for their young children. 

1.  Let kids be kids.

Let’s be honest. Other than Saturday morning soccer games, t-ball, or ballet classes…it can be difficult to find organized general recreational/sport activities for kids. Sometimes we feel like we have few choices to get our kids active. We feel like we have to lock them into a specific sport from the age of three! This, however, is not in the best interest in the child.

Child development professionals and physical educators recommend that “general” sport training in early childhood is best for athletic skill development, general fitness and a reduced risk of childhood obesity.

Again, children are not small adults. Children have unique development needs and abilities.  Too often, adults design athletic programs according to the goals and abilities of adults.  It is important that sport programs are designed specifically to meet the physical, social and emotional needs of children.

2.  Build a foundation of skills for the future.

When we get our young children involved in a specific sport, we see those coaches are often tempted to teach and practice game-specific skills more than general athletic skills…after all…game-specific skills are the ones that determine which team wins.  We as parents must realize that general athletic skills, such as jumping, landing, kicking, throwing, twisting or hopping lay a foundation for becoming a successful athlete in the future.  We need to look at a child’s long-term development…not their short-term success!

Our kids are not small adults...and shouldn't exercise like adults!

Our kids are not small adults…and shouldn’t exercise like it.

When we don’t give our kids the “basics” mentioned above. We run the risk stunting the development of a young athlete and putting a cap on their potential to succeed at another sport later in life. With premature specialization, high-intensity training or too many competitions, we endanger long-term athletic development. We may also begin to see overuse injuries from being in a sport with the same repetitive motions, rather than giving them overall motion education and motor skill development.

More important than winning, a child’s early sport experiences should teach them critical skills necessary for movement success throughout life. Engage your child in activities that focus on total skill development. It will prepare them for future success in any sport.

3.  Make it fun!!!

Have you ever stood on the sidelines of a pee-wee football game or recreational soccer league and heard the coaches yelling (and maybe a parent or two) at the children on the field? It’s possible these small children already had 2 or 3 days of practice that week. And now, they are excited to finally PLAY a game. But now, they find themselves confused, scared, and if you look closely…you see self-confidence shattering. That’s not what fun looks like.

The importance of fun is often neglected or misunderstood in youth sports.  It is striking how much better a child can learn something if they have fun doing it.  Emotions are important to learning and motivation; so the more fun, the more learning takes place…and the more a child will want to return to the activity!  “Fun” can be defined as a balanced combination of skill and challenge that provides a deep feeling of inner satisfaction…and a boom in self-confidence. Quality general-sport programs for young children provide this critical balance of learning and fun at every age.

4.  Be safe!

Children learn best and feel most comfortable when they feel safe. Providing your child with a safe atmosphere for being active allows them to learn better, feel successful about when they are learning and, of course, have fun.  This point goes beyond physical safety. We are also watching out for a child’s mental and social safety…both are just as important to success.

Mental and social safety are nurtured in an atmosphere where there is freedom to learn at one’s own pace.  Children all learn differently and at a different rate as other children their age. It is important to look for activities and programs that allow children to learn at their own pace without comparison or in competition with others.

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When you consider these four points, you come to understand that in general, non-structured or non-specific recreational play can be the most important time to develop motor skills and to help ensure an athletic and healthy future.

In reality, playing outside with friends might be more beneficial for children than any organized activity or sport out there!  As parents, we can help our children become active for life by getting them involved in general skill development programs and also promoting playtime learning that is fun and forms a foundation for an active future!

Excerpts taken from Athletic Business Magazine, November 2006, “Youth Sports”, written by Tommi Paavola.