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Family Matters

The Art of Play and Making Fitness Fun

March 1st, 2015

By Luke Lavorato

Why are fewer kids playing sports and more and more kids gaming online and updating their Facebook statuses instead? Why is it that 20 years ago parents used to scold their kids for playing outside for too long and now we have to beg them to go outside and play? There are many distractions that could be blamed for this transition. One major deterrent is that kids aren’t having as much fun with physical activity anymore. We are going to explore the reasons that kids aren’t having as much fun anymore and figure out ways to get them back outside and loving it.

Fear of failure is the biggest thing holding kids back. They are scared to try something that they have never done before. It is especially scary when they have to compete against other kids who are more experienced than they are. It is extremely important that kids get active as early as possible; however, that doesn’t mean that we should throw them onto a sports team before they are ready. Some kids are inherently very competitive and love being on teams. A lot of kids aren’t ready for this. The best way to combat this fear is to introduce your kids to physical activity in a safe atmosphere. Some great examples of this would be introductory movement classes, beginner’s gymnastics courses, a basic sport class that focuses on development, as opposed to competition, or introductory dance classes. While all of these are dependent on who is running the class, they are great ways to dissolve the separation anxiety kids naturally have. However, the best introductory coach for your child is you!

One-on-one time with your child is the best way to get them active. You are their hero and they love playing with you. But what if you’re not an athlete or if you have very little background with physical activity? Who cares! Your child will appreciate that you are trying. You don’t have to be perfect with your teaching or with your technique. The most important part is that you make it fun. Here are some tips to adding fun into your active play. Encourage everything. If your child is practicing catching a football and they got it one time, treat that like they have just won the Super Bowl. Any success at a young age is worth celebrating. Break down the drill to its simplest form so that your child experiences feelings of success. If you are teaching dribbling a basketball, the first step should be getting them to push the ball down out of your hands. From there you can progress it as far as they are ready for. Use your imagination. If you are teaching your child to dance, use a jungle song and imitate different animals with your movement. They will have fun and you can laugh at yourself at the same time. If you are playing football, pretend you are ninjas practicing your ninja moves. Use what they love to engage their imaginations. Lastly, use games you already know and adapt them to what you are trying to accomplish. Tag is a great and classic game that you can use in a variety of ways. You could play tag with basketballs or hockey sticks. Whoever doesn’t have a ball is it and the other person has to try to steal it back. You could play Follow-the-Leader, but with dance moves. One bonus tip is to make physical activity a reward, not a punishment. If your child does something wrong, don’t punish them with pushups. Make sure you are sending the right message. At the end of the day the goal is to see smiling faces and rosy cheeks. With all of this fun talk, how can they be the best they can be?

When my father was a child, he would leave his house at 8 a.m. with five sandwiches, warm clothes, and his hockey gear, and wouldn’t come back from the outdoor rink until 8p.m. He didn’t play organized sports until he reached high-school. Now you might think his parents crippled him by not getting him training at an early age and that he had no chance of playing at a high level because of this. My Dad played in the CFL for 10 years and was recruited by four NHL teams. The main reason he excelled at sports was because he loved playing them. More importantly, at the age of 63 he is still very healthy and in great shape.

As parents we worry all the time that our children are falling behind because we didn’t get them onto a team early enough or we don’t have them in the right training. This is an unnecessary worry: 0.0001% of athletes play professional sports, and that 0.0001% is usually very different from the rest. So stop worrying! Physical activity becomes more fun the better you get at it, and as children get older they should have coaches teaching them that know how to progress their skills. Even at a young age it is important to do our best to give them the proper advice so they can see at least a little bit of success with everything that they are trying. However, do not feel the pressure of getting into the top level of activity right away, especially if it is forced. Forcing your child into high-level competition at young ages is a quick way to burn them out and steal their love of that activity. If they are that 0.0001% that is made for professional sports they will want to play that sport all of the time and will seek out competition because it is fun for them. For the rest of us 99.999%, it is important that we continue to enjoy physical activity so we can continue to stay in shape as we age.

Television, video games and social media in small amounts are not evil. In large quantities, however, they are a poison to kids’ chances of being and remaining active. Limit the amount they take part in. Thirty to 60 minutes of video games, television, or social media in a day is more than enough. You will be surprised what children find to do when they are bored.

Getting kids active and healthy isn’t rocket science. Don’t pressure them into situations they aren’t ready for. Play with them at home and develop their confidence so that joining a group or team doesn’t create anxiety. Stop worrying about if they are on the best team or have the best training; instead, make sure that they are enjoying themselves, getting better, and most importantly, encourage every success you see. Keep in mind that a high five and a big smile go a long way!

Luke Lavorato is Owner and Director of Sportball Edmonton. He has an incredible wife named Stacey and three amazing children: Mason, Tony and Oliver. He played football on a scholarship at the University of Alberta and was also recruited to play basketball. Luke graduated with a degree in business and has dedicated every day since graduation to finding the best ways to make kids smile and get them active.

Tags: advice, kids

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