Sport offers numerous advantages to children, but it also has a high dropout rate. How can we keep kids interested in sports? We asked experts and athletes like Rebecca Adlington and Chris Hoy.
When Richard Williams started tutoring his daughters Venus and Serena on the public tennis courts of Compton, Los Angeles, every morning before school started, few parents went as far as he did. For the rest of us, parents can still play an important role in instilling a love of exercise and sport in their children from an early age.
Psychologist Claire-Marie Roberts, head of coach development at the Premier League, argues that parents and guardians play an “absolutely vital role” in a child’s initiation to the sport. All kids benefit physically, mentally, and socially by being active; here are some ideas for getting them started.
Start as soon as possible, but don’t forget to have fun.
A pattern is established when children participate in activities from an early age. There isn’t such thing as starting too early,” Roberts adds of the planning process. Go to a park, a swimming pool, or a soft play centre with your baby to get them rooted in fun. As a former Olympic long jumper and father of two, Greg Rutherford concurs: “Throwing and catching is great for improving hand-eye coordination, and we make up dumb games, like putting out pots and pans to throw a ball into them.” It creates a positive image of exercise in the minds of young people.”
Get people to see sports as a normal part of their lives.
“A buggy is the most expedient means of moving a child from A to B, but if you take the time to walk or scoot, you will all reap the benefits.” Roberts also suggests keeping youngsters active in daily life. When they’re older, they won’t give a second thought to riding if they want to see their buddies. A study published in the Sport Journal established a link between early childhood physical activity and adolescent physical fitness.
Rather than focusing on improvement, focus on compliments.
Getting praised, argues Roberts, is crucial. The former England captain and footballer Steph Houghton says she still needs “that small amount of praise to feel appreciated for the effort and intensity I offer.” she says.
As Roberts puts it, focusing on “their effort and eagerness to learn” is equally important. ‘Although my kid lost his first taekwondo tournament, he was delighted that he’d tried,’ says Chris Hoy, father of two and former Olympic cyclist. “Don’t worry about other people; you weren’t the best that day, but you’re better than you were a week ago, and you’re having fun,” we encourage him.
Primary school age
Take part in as many sports as possible.
Allow your child to as many activities as you can now. It’s what Hoy, Rutherford, and Houghton all went through. According to Houghton, he was encouraged by his parents to explore a variety of activities because of this. “Taekwondo teaches self-control and respect, while football teaches teamwork and competition.” Exposure is the best way for children to discover what they like and keep up with it.
Become a part of the solution
The bare minimum is registering them and having them come pick them up. As Roberts puts it, “exercising becomes the norm in that household” if parents are actively committed. Swimmer Rebecca Adlington’s family was no exception. On weekends, she says, “we were always out and about.” “It has a significant impact on my life.”
His father “worked long hours as a builder, but he would always play football with me — that was our moment to bond,” says Rutherford, who was growing up. Johanna Konta has great recollections of running with her father in the morning. A cliff-edge golf course would be our destination for the morning. That made an impact on me.”
However, in typical heterosexual family units, usually, the father will role-model sport and fitness,” writes Roberts. Both parents must share this responsibility equally.
Make it a pleasure, not a chore.
Adults used to think of exercise as a chore, yet a 10-minute bike ride or a game of keepy-uppy can be considered a reward.
Hoy describes sports as a “prize.” A BMX track might be an option if I did well in school. Get out and stroll, ride a bike or bounce about on a trampoline if your youngster doesn’t enjoy sports. You’ll never see anyone frowning while they’re having fun.”
It is not a ring-fenced chore, says Roberts; it might be an enjoyable pleasure, an efficient means of going there or socialising.
Help them overcome their disappointments.
Kids’ sports typically grow more competitive at this age, and one unpleasant experience can turn them away from the sport. Roberts’ approach is to look for the good things, emphasising hard work and progress.
Hoy’s commute home used to be a catalyst for change. Dad never forced the matter; instead, he waited for me to start talking before asking: ‘Why do you think that happened?’ when one of my competitions didn’t go well. After a short talk with my father, I’ve never felt depressed again.” In the same way, Adlington’s parents allowed her to vent, “I might become irritated or go quiet, but my parents would give me a space and talk it through.”
According to Roberts, encourage children to reflect and explain that even the most successful athletes have their share of disappointments. “I had more bad days than good,” Rutherford admits.
Forty-three per cent of girls who once considered themselves sporty stop participating in sports by the time they reach high school, according to research conducted by the nonprofit organisation Women in Sport. Still, girls are plagued by hormonal breakouts, menstrual cramps, and adolescence.
She recalls her adolescent insecurities: “I was much heavier than the other girls. “I had spots, so it wasn’t always easy,” I recall saying. “Swimming gave me confidence since I was good at it,” she said, overcoming her insecurities about her body’s appearance.
As Konta points out, many people experience feelings of “grossed out by themselves,” but conveying that this is a temporary state is crucial.
Roberts advises women to open up about their menstruation. When Konta was in her 20s, she changed her mind about wearing black shorts during her period. “I thought, if I bleed through when I’m wearing white, so be it,” Konta says.
Do not use your child as an outlet for aspirations you didn’t realise, advises Roberts. Instead, help them discover their passions. The child’s voice must be heard, however. ‘ It is Rutherford’s opinion that he will encourage his children if they choose to participate in athletics in the future, but he will not force them to do so because he enjoyed it. Despite her parents’ disinterest in the sport, Adlington broke world records.
Hoy recommends that parents talk to their children about their interests and then “direct them in that direction because they’ll get more excitement from it.” from that. Children were “dragged around the country to race, and quitting as soon as they were old enough to make their own decisions,” he explains. Because I’ve never lost my love for cycling, I’m still riding my bike today.”
A common problem for guys is that they mature at various rates. During a game of rugby at the tender age of 14, Hoy was “physically pummelling” by a 6’2″ youngster with a moustache. “Everyone matures at a different rate,” he learned from the experience. “By the time everyone ages eighteen or nineteen, it begins to level off.”
Allowing them to be teens is the right thing to do.
Remember that being a teen is difficult, so be kind to them. We are doing them a disservice by preventing them from attending parties because of training, ” Roberts says. To paraphrase, “It’s crucial to have regular teenage experiences,” as Houghton states. Her reasoning for this is that “if you want to accomplish something right, you have to make sacrifices,” to paraphrase: Even though my parents understood that I needed time to mature and discover who I was, they wouldn’t allow me to leave the house on Saturday night if I had to go to training the next day. I had a doubt I’d have had the same success if I’d tried to make those decisions alone. To maintain equilibrium is the key.”
Allow your child to discontinue participating in a sport if they so desire. “At this age, their rising autonomy is crucial,” Roberts adds. When Hoy was 14, he confided in his father that BMX wasn’t something he was interested in any longer. We went mountain biking together after I told him I wanted to give it a whirl. He may have pushed me, and I wouldn’t have been able to ride a bike again for the rest of my life.”
As for Houghton, he was permitted to discontinue taekwondo because he didn’t have the same passion for it as he did for football. There was an understanding that I’d given it my all.