Keep it Fun! 3 Ways to Instill a Lifelong Love for Sports in Kids

group of kids runninggroup of kids runningEmpowering children to make nutritious food choices is only one part of raising happy, healthy kids. The other part is getting in 60 minutes of physical activity daily… and that can become very difficult, if not turn into a tiresome chore quite quickly if kids are not self-motivated to move.

You're on a mission to instill a lifelong passion for sports activities in your kids, because the added benefit for you will be that if your kids love their sports activities, you can stop nagging them daily about getting off the couch and start having fun being active together. You'll know you're there when your kids simply can't wait to go to practice again, attend the next lesson or are eager to do a physical activity every day after school if it's a more unstructured kids sports activity they engage in during their free time - like learning to ride the unicycle in the driveway…

As parents, one of the best things we can do help our kids stay healthy well beyond the years when we drag them to the playground or the pool every day is to instill a lifelong passion for moving their body.

How do you accomplish that? You have to make it fun for kids to be physically active. After all, 75% of all young athletes drop out of sports by the time they are 13 years old, because playing and competing no longer satisfies them or makes them happy. In today's organized youth sports, many kids feel immense pressure to continuously improve and to win… often to make their parents and coaches happy more so than to feel happy themselves. Once you have an active young athlete on your hands, helping him be confident, deal with defeats or wins and work through quarrels with teammates or the coach is a new challenge all together. But that's not what we are talking about here. We want to help you spark that - hopefully - lifelong interest in sports in the first place; help you and your child find that physical activity he loves without forcing it.

Three ways to instill a passion for physical activity in kids

  1. Find the right balance between guidance, encouragement and knowing when to back off
    This is not easy, but once you find that balance it is fulfilling for you and your child. Let her take the lead on what new sports activity she would like to try. Provide the basics, such as logistics, basic equipment and very positive words of encouragement. As a kid, it's her job to whine about going to weekly practice. But as a parent, you have the power to determine whether she gets to cop out from one practice or drop out from a program entirely. She needs your strength and encouragement to stick with it and have confidence in her abilities. Not every kid has athletic super-talents, and that's ok. Passion, camaraderie and fun can win games and medals too.
  2. Find a good kids sports program
    Every youth program sounds fantastic on their own website. Do your own research. Often, you can find independent reviews of the program online. Untrained coaches can thoroughly spoil your kids ability to have fun. Good staff, on the other hand, can make all the difference in dealing with bullying, unfairness or a kid who feels uneasy. A gifted coach knows how to motivate each little athlete, keep practice varied and challenging and set individual goals for each child according to his or her abilities and strengths.Talk to other parents about their experience with a program, the staff, the time commitment that's really involved and any costs you might not be anticipating in addition to the sign-up fee. Talk to older kids who have been in the program. Watch a couple of practices.
  3. Have a positive exit strategy
    Yes, it is your job to support your child in finding the discipline to regularly participate in a new sports activity. But it's also your responsibility to recognize when he no longer has fun with it or it simply isn't the right sport for him. You know when it's time to stop; give him - and yourself - permission to pull out. This is not a failure, but a step forward in kindling a lifelong love for physical activity. Talk to your child about the lessons learned, why he didn't enjoy this particular activity and how this can help you move on together. And remember, kids' physical activity doesn't always require a team or a coach or even a facility.

Share your own experiences with us and other parents! How did you get your little athlete going? Did you have to work through a time with your kid when he or she just didn't have fun with a sport activity anymore? What was the outcome?