By Catriona Campbell
When I was a child, I actively stayed as far away from the sports field as possible. I just wasn’t one of those “sporty” kids. I could be found contentedly reading for hours on the couch or writing stories in my room. As I’ve gotten older, my relationship with sport and exercise has changed. I enjoy being active and the physical and mental health benefits that come with it. Instead of something to be dreaded, exercise on my own terms makes me feel good.
When my children were born, and the pressure to enrol them in sporty things began, I reflected on my childhood relationship with physical activity. Like myself, some kids aren’t conventionally athletic, but this doesn’t mean they are destined to be sedentary. As parents, our role is not to raise the next Wayne Gretzky or Christine Sinclair. Instead, we should encourage and help our children find the right fit for them—even if it is a little outside the box. This collaborative approach is crucial in helping our kids develop habits that will make fitness part of their everyday life.
So how can you encourage your reluctant child to stay active?
Have you enrolled your child in activities with little success? Be patient. It can take a while to find the right fit. When beginning a new activity, encourage your child to stick at it at least twice so they can make an informed decision. (Don’t purchase a brand new set of hockey equipment before the first lesson!) If the activity doesn’t quite click, encourage them try something else. Look for “taster” after-school sports programs that allow your child to find what they like, and respect their decisions. That said, don’t be afraid to revisit activities in a few years.
One sport does not fit all
Talk with your child, and find out what interests and engages them. Make sure the activity, environment, and coach is a good fit for their personality. Every child develops differently, and many are neither socially nor emotionally ready for organized sports at an early age. It is normal for children to become quickly frustrated with activities that demand a good attention span, teamwork, and rule-following. Give them time.
Is the activity too competitive? While competition can be a great motivator, the pressure to win can overtake fun. Consider joining a non-competitive or more casual club. New West Parks and Recreation offers soccer, floor hockey, ice-skating, and swimming lessons that run for eight to ten sessions. Don’t be afraid to mix things up. The right activity and environment can be amazing for a child’s self-esteem, health, and social skills, but the wrong one can put them off for a very long time.
Children with gross-motor challenges may not have the strength, balance, endurance, and coordination required for some activities. This may lead to anxiety, and reluctance to participate. Take small steps, encourage, and revisit the basics.
Think outside the box
Tap into your child’s interests. Do you have a Harry Potter fan? UBC has a successful Quidditch team that competes nationally, and runs “Kidditch” events for younger fans. This combination of physical activity, and the dream of holding aloft the Quidditch World Cup might just be the spark they need. Perhaps they dream of being a swashbuckler or knight? Fencing or archery could be the perfect fit.
Do your kids prefer playing video games to running about? Use this to your advantage. Thanks to Pokemon Go, last summer was my family’s most active to date. Before we began collecting little monsters in our phones, the suggestion of “going for a walk” was met with groans and complaints. Suddenly, I was awakened at 7am by two excited boys eager to walk 2km, 5km, and 10km (!) to hatch eggs. If you don’t have a data plan, why not head to Queen’s Park and connect your device to the free wifi available throughout the park?
On rainy days, of which there are many, we turn to Wii Fit. Screen time and exercise is an easy sell for my kids. Another indoor option is yoga, which can be done almost anywhere. Yoga is a fantastic way for kids to build strength and coordination, as well as develop mindfulness and manage stress. My kids love the engaging, colourful storytelling of the Cosmic Kids Yoga channel on YouTube.
Left on the sidelines?
Individual sports that offer more one-on-one time are a great option for kids with special needs or behavioural challenges. My eldest is high-energy and brimming with enthusiasm but finds the reality of structured, organized sports challenging. We have had success with “solo” activities such as swimming, karate, and ice-skating. I was thrilled to hear Royal City Youth Soccer Club has introduced a trial adaptive soccer program for kids “who may have been left on the sidelines in the past.” I truly hope this inclusive approach becomes the norm.
Point to role models to encourage your kids. Michael Phelps—the most decorated Olympian of all time—has ADHD, and took up swimming at age seven as an outlet for his energy. I think he did pretty well for himself.
Raising a child is costly, and expensive registration fees and sporting equipment can pose huge barriers to entry. Help is out there. KidSport New West offers grants to pay for registration fees for those in financial need, “so all kids can play.” KidSport also holds popular used equipment sales; the next one will take place in March in Port Coquitlam. It’s a great place to pick up that pricey hockey equipment!
Instead of focusing on “sports” and scheduled activities, we should look at how we can be active in ways that work for our children and family. Being active can take many forms. It can mean getting up at the crack of dawn for hockey practice, or—yep—playing video games. Above all, relax and focus on fun.