One of the greatest things you can give to your kids is the gift of healthy habits, which they will carry with them for many years to come. Although being physically active is one of these habits, many parents overlook its importance and fail to support their kids in sports, or push them too hard, up to the point they start hating the sport they loved and enjoyed.
Being a parent is not an easy task, and we often jump into the parenthood waters only partly prepared, passing on to our children far more than our genes, while we are still learning how to swim. When it comes to things that matter and can influence our kids’ well-being the way physical activity does, our every effort counts, and so does our every mistake. We’ve gathered some great ways you can support your kids in sport, helping them form this habit early on in their lives, and enjoy all its advantages when they are fully grown adults too. But first, let’s remind ourselves of these benefits.
How Sports Benefit Your Child?
Physical activity benefits your child in numerous ways, impacting every area of their personal development – physiological, social and psychological. Here are some of them:
- Your kids will be healthier. By regularly engaging in sports activities, the risk of obesity in your kid will be significantly reduced, as well as the risk of heart disease and cancer. Exercises will cause physical stress which will help your kid’s muscles and bones become healthier and stronger, while the lungs’ capacity will improve. Sports will also reduce the risk of developing diabetes and regulate your kid’s stress levels, having a positive impact on their blood pressure and energy levels. Your kid will also have better balance and coordination, reduced chronic muscular tension and improved sleep, while their overall happiness will be boosted by the release of beta-endorphins and serotonin.
- They’ll develop self-confidence and self-esteem.Participating in sports can develop your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem, as they’ll feel encouraged by your words and the words of praise coming from their teammates and coaches. Still, their self-esteem should not depend on the result of a match or whether they win or lose, but on the very fact that they’re embracing the challenge to do their best and enjoy the game.
- Your kids will develop social skills. During their training and games, your child will spend a lot of time with their peers, but with people from other age groups too, so they’ll develop social skills they can use in other relevant areas. They’ll have an opportunity to make new friends, develop a sense of belonging, and they’ll learn how to cooperate and be a part of the team.
- They’ll learn how to lose, too. Sports can teach your kids an important life lesson early on – life isn’t a series of wins alone. Sometimes they just have to accept defeat, get up and try again. It’s a hard lesson for everyone, but the sooner your kid learns how to lose without giving up, the better.
- Your child will learn about discipline. If your child wants to be partof the game, they need to understand the importance of discipline, and they need to know the rules and follow them as well as respect decisions made by their coach. It’s also the discipline that will help them to become better athletes, and they’ll learn that only by having enough patience and dedication to practice, even when they don’t feel like it, they can achieve perfection.
- They learn how to become a team player. Another important lesson for your kids to learn through their engagement in team sports is how to be a team member and work together with others in achieving shared goals. They’ll learn how to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses and find a way to bring out the best of each other for the sake of their team.
Some studies claim that having regular physical activity will boost your child’s academic performance, as it improves their memory and cognitive functions of the brain. Also, the chances of developing bad habits, such as smoking, decrease with sports engagement, as your kid has more positive role models and less unstructured time they can spend on pointless activities which can be potentially risky.
So, with all these benefits sports bring, it’s only natural you want to support your child in the best possible way. Here are 6 surefire ways to do it.
Lead Them by Your Example
Kids learn while observing, and given that you’re the most important person in their universe and the one they are focused on most of their time, they look up to you and imitate your behavior. That’s how they learn to distinguish between good and bad, valuable and not valuable, or important and unimportant. That’s how they make their first choices, too, and decide what team they’ll support or what their new hobby will be.
Your kids will find it hard to learn by your example if you don’t practice what you preach. You can say a mouthful on the importance of sports to your child, but if you’re a couch-potato yourself, they will have a problem believing you. And why should they? If you’re not showing by your actions that you really believe in the importance of physical activity, your kid can only conclude it’s probably not that important after all, or you would be doing it too.
So, start by demonstrating the importance of physical activity by putting your money where your mouth is and being active yourself and start participating in different kinds of outdoor activities. Set a good example for them, and challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Go for a run, join a local gym or choose to participate in casual softball or basketball game, and show your kids all the benefits first-hand, by enjoying these sports.
Play Sports Together
The odds are that if you enjoy playing sports with your children, they’ll grow fond of playing sports too, associating these activities with fun times they’ve spent with you. You can start by playing ball together, or teaching your kid to ride a bike, and then move on to introduce them to the sport you love the most. Don’t be disappointed if you find your kid unimpressed with your favourite choice pretty soon – It can be they are either too young to fully understand the sport and follow its rules, or they are just more inclined to something completely different. Be open to new possibilities yourself too, and find ways to enjoy these activities together, whenever possible.
Make Sports Fun
When trying to find the right way to support your kid in sports, you’re actually setting a long-term goal, which you can achieve only by making small but persistent steps your kid will enjoy taking. Since you want physical activity to become their lifetime habit, forcing them into it won’t get you far – your kid will love participating sports only if they find them fun and enjoyable, and you’re the one who needs to show them how.
Kids with a great talent for a sport, often end up hating it, and eventually, dropping out of it. Many of them specialize in a single sport at their very young age, and all the enjoyment and fun vanishes with the extensive hours of intensive training, which leaves them longing for unstructured play and non-sport activities, and results in their losing interest. Often, such burnout in kids is a result of excessive involvement and high expectations of their parents, seeing their child’s talent as a means to advance, economically or socially.
Make sure that whatever sport your children choose is fun to them, and support them to take a break and try other sports as well, if you notice they are no longer enjoying it.
Bear Your Child’s Age in Mind
It’s important to start involving your kids in sports as early as you can, but make the choice of activities appropriate for their age. Before the age of six, your kids will find it hard to follow the rules of organized games, but they’ll find it quite enjoyable to play hide-and-seek, play ball, or cycle. If you want to support them at this age, ensure they have a lot of opportunities to play with you and their peers outdoors, and learn some basics of the sports they are interested in. It’s also important to make them feel comfortable when playing, so make sure you’ve equipped them with high-quality children footwear from the days they’ve made their first steps.
When they start school, your kid will become more interested in social activities and attracted to the sports their friends are playing, such as soccer, gymnastics, tennis, dancing, karate, etc. These fascinations don’t always last long, and you can expect your kid wanting to try out other sports as well, so it’s important you give them a chance.
By the time they reach nine, your kid will become more independent, but organized group sports will still be their favorite choice. As in this age, training becomes a bit more demanding and serious, be ready to give your kids constant support – they’ll need you to transport them, cheer for them and encourage them when they lose, and show up for their every match.
When they enter their teenage years, your kids will start making their own choices concerning sports, and won’t always ask for approval. Even if they do, pay attention to what they are saying – if the magic is gone and they want to quit the sport they are so good at, allow them to do so. It’s very likely they’ll find another sport they’ll enjoy if they’ve already formed a habit, so your long-term goal would still be achieved even if they quit.
Learn About the Sport
Some parents can find themselves in the situation when they are clueless about the sport their kid is training. Still, this doesn’t mean they won’t be able to properly support their child if they show an interest in that particular activity and learn its basics. You can attend your kid’s games regularly, and use this opportunity to increase your understanding of the sport and the efforts your kid is putting into it, as well as identify the areas they need support in. The internet is a valuable source of information, where you can find any hack your kid will ever need for advancing their technique, so you can have fun working out on that technique together. You can also help your kid boost their performance by engaging together in other activities which help them build their endurance, strength or overall fitness level.
Keep the Perspective
Even though sports tend to be highly competitive, remember that you’re supporting your child to play, no matter whether they win or lose. The very act of engaging in a sports activity is what truly matters as long as your kid enjoys it, and not their results. Your kid can have a strong desire to win and try very hard, but still fail to achieve their goal, and it’s up to you to show them how to lose gracefully and still have fun.
It comes naturally for a parent to want their kids to be the best, but if they don’t succeed in achieving such expectations, showing your disappointment will only add pressure and make them feel like a failure. Never let your child see your mood ruined by their performance as it will have lasting effects on the way they are perceiving sports and themselves. Always do your best to shift their focus away from the negative thoughts about loss and the stress they might be feeling because of it, to all the fun and enjoyment they had during the game. Just a couple of words, such as “a good try, seems like you enjoyed it” can do that job perfectly, as long as you genuinely feel the same way too. So keep your perspective on the long term goals you’ve set for your child – a healthy mind in a healthy body, where the matter of winning or losing is simply not that relevant.
Give your kids all the support they need to choose the sport they’ll have fun playing. It’s the best way to make them love sports and develop healthy habits, no matter if it’s just a casual game of basketball with their friends or a potential career in tennis.