One of the best things you can do as a parent is to encourage your children to take up sport. Exercise is a habit that will serve them well, reducing their risk of a wide range of diseases and injuries, while also increasing the quality of their life. Since sport is a great way to make exercise fun, and it provides a range of social and cognitive benefits, it’s a no-brainer when it comes to activities.
But what’s the best way to encourage your children to take up a sport? Clearly, we can’t force them into it: that might actually cause resentment, and have the opposite effect to the one we want.
Do it together as a family
If you can get the entire family involved in a given activity, then you’ll get a chance to bond as a group. Pick an activity that everyone can get involved in, and try to make sure that everyone is having fun, and feels included.
Keep it fun
You’ll also demonstrate that the activity is fun, which will give your child an example to emulate. Remember that your child will take a lot of cues about what’s normal and what isn’t by observing your behaviour. If you’re kicking a ball around, having fun, and not getting too stressed when things don’t go your way, then they might just do the same thing. You might get everyone into the spirt of things by investing in replica kits from your favourite teams.
Of course, as well as leading by example, you’ll also want to occasionally provide your children a few words of encouragement. Defeat can be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s also an opportunity to learn and grow. Make sure that you emphasise what’s important – which, at this stage, will be things like enjoyment and effort.
Recognise effort, not results
One piece of parenting advice that’s acquired traction in recent years is that effort should be recognised, rather than performance. Children who strive to improve and better themselves with every session will develop a work ethic that they can take into other areas of life – or, so goes the theory. By contrast, children who are naturally gifted, but don’t work hard, will eventually be overtaken by their peers. It’s not the result that matters, in other words.
Try a range of sports
One of the conclusions of David Epstein’s 2020 book ‘Range’ was that a variety of skills and talents is a better route to success than early specialisation. He cited the career of Roger Federer, who didn’t actually take up tennis until he was a teenager. Don’t force your children to take up a given sport and stick with it; encourage them instead to try a variety of them, until they find the one that really works for them!