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Six Ways to Bring Out the Athlete in Every Kid

by Sara Reistad-Long

Everywhere you look, there’s information about the importance of getting your kids to exercise. According to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, as little as 60 active minutes throughout the day can have a huge impact on a child’s obesity risk. Because sports can feel like play, not exercise, finding one your little one likes is a great starting point.

But what if your child just doesn’t want to try one? We asked top-ranked sport psychologist Dr. Robert Weinberg of Miami University-Ohio (and the author of nine books in the field) for his must-have list of easy and effective ideas for how to get children on their feet -- and having fun.

1. Give them choices
Research is clear that if children participate in a physical activity or sport just because their parents want them to, then the result will usually be short-term involvement in exercise. This in mind, think about what’s unique about your child. Does he tend to like working or playing in groups or alone? Does she need structure or a lot of autonomy? In addition, what kinds of athletes (or even celebrities) does he admire? Use these things (not your ideas of skills she should be learning) to put together a working list of ideas to go over with your child. The opportunity to give input, help with the process and even learn about the role models associated with each sport can turn getting off the couch into something to get excited about.

2. Involve their friends
Peer influence and acceptance is extremely important for adolescents. Talk to parents of your child’s close friends to find out what their kids are up to. Or, if you’re all in the same boat, come up with an activity the kids can all do together.

3. Play to their strengths
When narrowing your list of options, think about where your child’s talents lie. If he doesn’t have great hand-eye coordination, don’t make something that requires it the first sport you try. Research has shown that if a child starts to feel success or competence in an activity, it increases the chances she will like it and continue.

4. Don’t shun their love of video games
If you have a TV or video game lover on your hands, use it to your advantage. A number of studies have shown that kids burn a lot of calories playing Wii games – generally equivalent to energetic, moderate-intensity walking

5. It’s (sometimes) okay to give them rewards
It’s true that rewards can enhance motivation. But the key is to try to use the reward not just for time logged but also to reflect some level of competence or achievement. Healthy rewards should have meaning to the child, and be used mostly early on. Ideally, they’re there to kick-start the discovery the natural “reward” of getting better and better at something.

6. Giving them a little push can help a lot
If you’ve tried all of the above and getting going still feels tough, it’s all right to be a little pushy. Interviews with young athletes reveal that in some cases, their parents’ pushing them was what they needed to get involved in a sport or some type of physical activity. They said they didn’t realize it at the time, but in looking back, they were glad their parents urged them into the activity when they were younger.

Ready to burn some calories as a family? These fun outdoor games are guaranteed to bring out the kid in you.

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