From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Spring is a good time to get your kids physically active again. Maybe your child already has a favourite sport that he can't wait to get started on again. Maybe she never liked sports before now. Either way, it's important for kids to get started on activities early in life and to encourage them to try new things. Children's physical activity expert and Foundation researcher Dr. Patti-Jean Naylor says: "No one sport develops all physical skills. For building long-term physical activity habits, it's helpful if parents can introduce their kids to a broad set of experiences and skills so when they're older they have choices." As well, trying different sports can help your child be physically active 60 to 90 minutes a day, most days of the week, as well as build life-long physical activity habits early.

Finding a sport
If your kid is already into a certain sport, it can give you clues as to what others she might enjoy. For instance, soccer, football, basketball, and hockey are all sports that require stamina and speed, so if your child excels in one, she might do well at the others. Gymnastics, ice skating, inline skating, skateboarding, martial arts, tennis, soccer, football - all share the skill sets of stamina, body control and coordination. Swimming and basketball are good for kids with strength and stamina.

This can also be a helpful guideline if your child hasn't been engaged in many sports, but shows certain skills such as running, jumping or throwing. You should also consider whether your child prefers to be active on his own or enjoys being part of a team. For kids who prefer to work independently, martial arts, gymnastics, inline skating, skateboarding, swimming or bicycling might be better choices than team-sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse and rugby.

Choosing the right league and level
Before signing up, talk to your child about whether he would like something that's competitive or casual. If your child has already been on a team, find out from the coach what his personal skill level is. This will help you choose the right spot for your child -challenging, but not overwhelming. "If children are challenged at the right level of difficulty, it can increase motivation," Dr. Naylor says. House leagues or intramurals are usually a good starting point, while travel or representative leagues are better for more competitive and advanced players.

Ensuring equal play
One of the most discouraging things to a kid just starting out is to be picked last or put on a bench almost the entire game. Equal play ensures all participants get the chance to play in the game for a similar amount of time. This also means that teams (particularly house leagues) are chosen at random and are not a practice in favouritism, either by the coach or the other players. This may be important if your child is shy or hasn't played any sports before. That's why it's also very important that you attend games regularly to make sure that everyone is being treated fairly and equally. Discuss the idea of equal play with the sport's coach to make sure he or she shares your view. "Many sports organizations have rules about playing time in the early years. One of the reasons for sharing equal play time is that kids are developing at different rates early in life, and development of skills depends on spending enough time doing it," says Dr. Naylor. "You don't know who will become an athlete, and at that age, kids need to develop their belief in their own abilities. You want them to have fun, to participate, but also to master the skills so they can feel successful. Sitting one child on the bench while playing another for longer can make the non-participant feel like she is not competent. You want to make sure your child has enough opportunity to succeed."

Making sure it is safe
It's a good idea to make sure your child has had a recent check up at the doctor and is fit enough to get out and play more vigorously. Also, ask around and find out from the coach and parents if the equipment and environment are safe for the kids. Does the sport require a helmet? What about protective body gear? Talk to the coach about supplying the children with nutritious snacks and 100% fruit juices to make your kid's activity more enjoyable.

Being a good role model
Of course, one of the best ways to get your kids interested in new sports is by being open to trying new things yourself. "If a child is going into something new, you need to help them get through the difficult stage of skill learning. So, get out in the yard and help them practice," Dr. Naylor says. You might be able to ask the school if you can borrow some equipment to test which sports your kid has the most fun with. Try to stay focused on the positive, praising successes, but also not being too negative if there are mistakes. Dr Naylor also notes: "Praise correct form and process over just saying 'that's good.' Specific feedback, such as 'it's good that you're bending your knees,' can be more helpful." Most of all, she says, be open to letting your kid try the sports she shows an interest in, rather than the one's you'd prefer. Support your child by getting active alongside. "Parents can also help kids develop skills before starting a sport by trying family activities such as dancing, throwing a ball and swimming to build basic fitness and skills. Just getting out and doing is a big piece of it. Have fun with your child."

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Posted: May 2009

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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