I’m a very lucky guy and count my blessings every day. What do i mean? Well I have two young sons aged 11 and 8 and fortunately for me they are absolute sports fanatics. Why is that fortunate for me? Primarily because I am exactly the same and it means my kids and I spend a lot of time both doing and watching stuff that we all love. There is the age old argument about nature or nurture. Are they sports fanatics because that’s just the way they were born, or because they grew up from an early age with a Dad passionate about everything from Football to Horse Racing and Rugby to Boxing? Hell I’d probably watch, and bet on, two flies walking down a window if I could. However as well as enjoyment and spending loads of quality and fun times with my boys, I also count myself very lucky because I know that they are going to grow up into extremely fit, healthy and active young men, and that makes me very happy!
However not everyone is sports and activity crazy like me. If you are reading this blog It’s pretty likely that you at least have a passing interest in Health, Fitness and Diet but you may just be passing through and are keen to pick up some tips on how to help your children and kids enjoy, become familiar with and benefit from healthy activities that will lay the groundwork for them to become active, fit and hopefully very long lived adults. So here goes, here are a few tips and tricks that may help. This is by no means a comprehensive list but adopt some of these ideas and your kids WILL benefit physically and mentally.
1) Food. This is critical. If you can get them into good eating and drinking habits at an early age you will set them up for life. They are kids, they need to enjoy themselves and you can’t deny them ice cream, cakes and sweets all the time but as with all things consistency is the key. If you can get them eating good foods 75% of the time and even more importantly actually understanding what good foods are and why they are healthy then you will have won the battle. The best way to do this is to start them young and to be as varied and adventurous in the things they eat as possible. A wide variety of vegetables and fruit. Different meats, as many fish as you can find and all types of cuisine from around the world. Avoid processed and packaged foods wherever you can and fizzy or heavily sweetened drinks should be avoided as much as possible eg in our house we NEVER buy cokes, lemonades or other fizzy drinks (or almost never) BUT if we go to a restaurant and the boys fancy a coke they can have one. That way they don’t feel they are missing out but won’t be losing their teeth because they are consuming half their body weight in sugar every year.
2) Activity. Get your children out in the fresh air and get them active. This does not need to be playing an actual sport. My kids love sport but not all kids do, so in those cases teach them to ride and get them on a bike early. Go to the woods and climb trees, go swimming, find a dance class, fly kites, climb big hills. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just get them doing something for a couple of hours at least every week. There is a saying “show me the child at 7 and I’ll show you the man”. If you can get these habits into children at a young age they will stick and as I’ve already said that will lead to them becoming healthier adults with far better life expectancy.
3) Variety, variety, variety. Try out loads of sports and loads of activities. You just never know what your kids might have an aptitude for so give them every chance to excel at something. There are a huge variety of activities out there for children to take part in. It may require a lot of effort and possibly some money on your part, and I know that isn’t easy for everyone. But hey these are your kids, they come above (or should) every other thing in your life. Don’t just fall back on the obvious school sports like football, rugby, cricket, netball, athletics etc. What about Tennis, BMX racing, boxing, Kung Fu or Judo, Hockey, Skate boarding, Swimming, Gymnastics, Dancing, Wall Climbing, Archery, Canoing, Rowing, Orienteering, Sailing, Horse riding etc etc. My point is that there are an almost limitless amount of things you could try so break out of the mould and give it a go.
4) Don’t be too competitive too young. This has been a really hard one for me. I am the most competitive man in the world. I will take on challenges knowing in my head that I cannot win, but in my heart……well you just never know, and I’ll almost kill myself trying. That isn’t always a good thing, especially in children. Sports, particularly before about the age of 12 should be first and foremost about enjoyment , participation and gaining skills and physical ability. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no bleeding heart liberal who believes it’s all about the taking part and there should be no winners and losers. Far from it in fact. Life is all about winning and losing and children HAVE to learn that. However it should not be the be all and end all too early. Many children are simply not physically gifted, that’s just not the way they are built. That doesn’t mean they can’t join in, give it their all and love every minute of what they are doing. I have seen many kids turn up every week to play football and to be honest they are rubbish and probably always will be, but they leave the pitch with a gleaming smile on their face, rosy cheeks and it makes their weekend. That is exactly what you want and sometimes being too competitive too young discourages that.
5) The final point, and again this is one I have struggled with (due to the aforementioned competitive nature) is this. Don’t try to re-live your own life or childhood through your kids!!!! You may have visions of them lifting the world cup, winning Wimbledon or scoring the perfect 10 in Gymnastics but they just might not be cut from that cloth. I have seen so many dads (and mums) standing on the touchline screaming instructions at their intimidated children and you get the distinct impression that actually they don’t care about their kids, what they really want is just to win and probably to be playing themselves. These are your children. They have their own identities and are NOT mini me’s. Hard though it may be, you have to take a step back let them make their own decisions, own mistakes and own successes. That doesn’t mean you can’t guide, encourage and sometimes put down a firm foot and give them a bit of a kick up the backside if they are shirking or not trying. However, ultimately it is their life and all you can do is try to put them on the right path.
When i was at school I was fortunate enough to be in almost all the various sports teams. I have fantastic memories of that. The friendships made, great victories, heartbreaking losses, funny incidents, fights, journeys and songs sung. Since leaving school many of my best memories are of places I’ve visited, sights I’ve seen, sports events I’ve watched or been to, views I’ve taken in, great food I’ve eaten, risks I’ve taken and activities I’ve taken part in. In short great memories are made from experiences, things you see, feel, breath and live. They are NOT made from things you own, jobs you do, money you earn or Xbox levels you conquer.
The Best gift you can give your children is an enthusiasm for life, for taking part, for getting out there and just bloody doing things. It really matters not what it is that they do. Just get them off the sofa, get their trainers, boots or skates on and get them to take part in an activity, take part in LIFE!!!
PS: a second article will follow shortly which will focus on actually training with your kids and what you should or shouldn’t do.