My lungs screamed and my legs burned. Yet, I had the biggest smile on my face. I just completed my first triathlon — a 0.5-mile swim, 11-mile bike and 3-mile run amid the rolling hills of Napa County, Calif. My husband and daughter greeted me at the finish line with a big embrace. Once the hug fest was over, my daughter Bella looked at me with her big brown eyes and said, “Mommy, I’m a swimmer too!” And, later that day she asked if she could start swim lessons again.
I realized then and in the days that followed that I accomplished more on that October day than just my first triathlon. I also inspired Bella to give the sport of swimming a try. Sure, she has taken swim lessons off and on since she was nine months old. But I chose to enroll her in those classes as a safety precaution. This time around was different, because Bella voiced her wish to do more than blow bubbles in a pool. She wants to swim like her mommy.
The experience made me realize that parents have the power to inspire their children to participate in athletics. I did it by having my daughter watch me race. Of course, there are other ways to encourage kids to give sports and other physical activities a shot.
Ask your kids what sport they want to try. Sometimes, it can be as simple as describing options to your kids and asking them what they would like to try, according to Holly Green, a stay at home mom and attorney in Georgia. Her five year old son Jake, for example, said he wanted to try soccer — a sport he now plays. “Right now, there is no need to do anything but ask them ‘What do you want to do?’ and they do it,” said Green, who also has an eight year old daughter who does ballet.
Take your kids to a game or race. As I recently learned, your kids may be inspired by watching you, friends, family and professional athletes in action. The excitement of the game or race, combined with the sound of thunderous crowd support, could be the nudge your child needs to give sports a try.
Describe the benefits. Other kids may need more convincing. Nicole Rose’s eight year old son Benjamin is in the Boy Scouts, an organization that provides youth with an opportunity to participate in activities such as hiking and basketball. But, it wasn’t the physical activities that attracted Benjamin. According to Rose, it was the other activities he would get to do as a Boy Scout that prompted him to join like shooting a BB gun. “You get to have a pocket knife, you get to do gross things. So, he wasn’t concentrated on the hikes,” Rose, a partner at a marketing firm in Georgia, said. “Sometimes, it does take a little bit of marketing.”
Team sports aren’t for everybody. Perhaps your child doesn’t like crowds. Or, maybe your kid finds team sports stressful. That’s okay! Support your child if they don’t end up thriving in a team-sport setting and research other options. There are other activities your child can try. Swimming, running, cycling, gymnastics, dance… the list goes on and on! Rose — whose son Benjamin has tried soccer, basketball and baseball — said he is taking a break from organized sports because he isn’t into it. But,now he is in the Boy Scouts, which has involved a lot of hiking. And, he participates in a neighborhood tennis program year round. “It’s physical activity, but no pressure, no competition,” Rose said. “He is always happy and he never feels bad about himself.”
Teach your child about commitment. Encouraging your child to try a sport is half the battle. The other half? Explaining to your child that signing up for a sport means that he or she is agreeing to attend practice and games for the whole season. If your child discovers he or she doesn’t like the activity and wants to try something else, that’s fine. After all, sometimes it takes trying several sports before the child finds what is right for them. However, they have to follow through on their commitment to their current sport until the season is finished.
Practice. Once your child signs up for a sport, it may become apparent that he or she isn’t a natural athlete or good at the sport at first. And, your kid may get discouraged and want to quit. According to Rose, who also has a four year old daughter named Sophia, that is when it’s time to help build their confidence. “That means putting in time to practice” so they can get better, Rose said. “Then, they get excited to show off what they know.”