Teach your child to be a casual athlete

As a parent, how can you encourage your child to be a “casual athlete”, rather than pressuring her to be an elite one?

 We all know that exercise is good for adults, but even more so for children.

There are so many benefits of exercise for children. Besides helping them build strong bones and muscles, being physically active helps kids improve their balance and gross motor coordination, and it has mental benefits in terms of teaching them social skills, determination, and teamwork.

While most kids are naturally inclined to be active, there’s an increasing belief among children (and their parents) that they need to excel at a particular sport in order to participate. This defeats the purpose of sport, which should be an enjoyable activity that all children should be encouraged to take part in – regardless of their athletic ability.

Here are ways you can encourage your child to be a “casual athlete” rather than pressuring your child to be an elite one:

The value of participation

A valuable lesson for children to learn is that it’s not the result they achieve in sport that’s important – it’s that they enjoy taking part and that they have a good attitude to playing within a team or when facing competition. Take the pressure off your children to achieve a certain sporting result, and rather emphasise the enjoyment factor. Adopting this attitude means they’re more likely to live an active lifestyle long into adulthood, too.

Exercise as a family

This could be as simple as taking a family walk around the neighbourhood, or cycling in the park together. You could also get your family involved in more structured, organised events – for example, Parkruns on a Saturday morning (even if you push your baby in a pram).

Find activities they enjoy

Some children absolutely love team sports. Others may not like swimming. Still, others may prefer to be active in unstructured natural surroundings rather than on a sports field. Whatever it is, help your child to discover the physical activity that gets them excited and that’s fun for them to do. Beyond just the sports offered at your school, find out about extramural sports classes in your neighbourhood – whether it’s rock climbing, lifesaving or tap dancing – and let them do a trial class to see how they like it.

Make exercise part of daily life

Exercise doesn’t just need to be in a formal sports setting: it could mean walking to school, to the shops, or to friends’ houses together rather than driving or even walking up the stairs rather than taking the lift. You could also organise weekend trips where you camp and hike while you’re there, or go to the beach on weekends where your kids can swim, surf, or kayak. Anything that gets you out of the house and active will fit the bill here – and it will help you carve out more quality time with your family too.

Set a good example

The best way to illustrate the idea of the “casual athlete” to your kids is to lead by example. If you can show them that it’s possible to enjoy being active no matter what your ability, then they’re more likely to do this in their own lives too.