Sports and Exercise: More Different Than Alike


In my last blog, I talked about the importance of focusing on fun as it relates to exercise if your goal is to support an active lifestyle that will carry your kids into adulthood. Today, I want to take a look at another aspect of family fitness that encourages lifelong exercise habits in kids. For a lot of parents, the first idea that may come to mind when it comes to promoting activity is to involve the little ones with organized sports, like baseball or soccer. And while these activities may be a good way to get them to move while they're young, participating in sports may not be the best vehicle for promoting a life of activity. Here's why:

No Team = No Movement
Say your grown-up son or daughter decides one day that it's time to start focusing on fitness and their only memory of movement is being a part of a sports team. They may well decide "exercise" isn't an option because there's no team anymore. The mind goes back to the closest memory that's connected to the present desire. We decide what action we want to take based on that memory. So the desire to begin an exercise program may start and stop there.

Thanks, But No Thanks
The rules attached to organized sports can make the experience more exciting in our youth. But when we become adults, the thought of participating in rules-oriented activities can be a turn-off. The idea of starting an exercise program, when sports is the only active reference, can feel complicated and regimented, like other parts of adult life. This can leave the most well-intentioned person feeling less than enthusiastic about starting and maintaining an active life.

Last One Chosen
If a child isn't good at a sport, or sports in general, there's a good chance they won't like sports. We tend to like the things we're good at, and not like the things we aren't. And what makes matters worse with sports is that when you're not good chances are your peers know it. Not only can the experience be humiliating and embarrassing, but it can also deeply affect a child's self-esteem. Such feelings can linger into adulthood. If a child's reality is a bad experience, they may lump all movement into something they don't want to do, something they associate with failure and ridicule.

Final Thoughts
I'm not saying sports are bad for kids. Sports activities can do a lot to teach patience and skill and team work. What I am saying is these activities are not an effective way to develop a healthy connection to movement, fitness and exercise.

The best way to develop a healthy perspective toward fitness in your kids is to allow them to move in ways that don't have rules and allow them to make movement playful without focusing on winning, correct form or rules. When it comes time for them to decide on what kind of lifestyle they want to lead, they will be much more apt to keep moving if they can call on memories that connect fun with movement.

Bren Shropshire, a fitness/health coach, is a member of the Piedmont Parent's 2015 Fit Family Challenge Panel of Experts.

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