I’m a big advocate for #activekids. I really encourage my own children to take part in all manner of exercise, from family walks through to formal sports coaching. I spend a huge amount of time and energy ferrying them around the county and beyond for their classes and competitions. Is it really worth it? Can’t they just run about in the local park?
I’ve thought long and hard about this. What are they really learning? I can cover the ‘keeping fit and healthy’ bit myself. As far as the children are concerned, they’re just doing something they enjoy, which in itself is enough, but over the years I’ve realised that there is so much more that these formal exercise sessions have to offer than just helping them reach the recommended exercise guidelines!
Just for background…
My eldest son loves to climb, he goes once a week to an indoor climbing wall and is working his way through a grading system. He has recently started rowing and really enjoys it; he rows twice a week on the local river.
My middle son loves to run – cross country, track and he’s just started fell running. He trains two evenings a week at the track and usually has a competitive run or another training session at the weekend.
My daughter loves to dance – all types from Greek to tap, ballet to street dance. She has classes two evenings a week and all Saturday morning. Then there are extras for shows and dance competitions.
So, what are they learning and why am I happy to invest?
- Exercise is fun. Moving your body feels great and it’s fun but it’s not just about the actual doing of the exercise. Visiting new places, giggling backstage with your friends, mucking about on the team coach, making a little photo album of your favourite moments. These are all part of it. My children can see that without exercise as a hobby, life wouldn’t be as fun. They associate exercise with having a good time which I’m sure will give them healthy habits for life and help them see it as a pleasure and never a chore.
- Teamwork. Really getting to experience how wonderful it is to take on a challenge with others at your side is so important. Similarly, learning to be a team player, to rely on others, to give and take and to show sportsmanship are qualities that I know will serve them well in life. Self control, discipline when it’s needed, encouraging others and getting to celebrate with them too. Being good in a team an essential life skill.
- How to lose. This has been hard for them all as coming from a tiny primary school (fifty children), all three were used to getting a spot on the podium at some time or other. But when you then move to competing against others from all over the North West, it’s a different story. A difficult lesson to learn, but they are really getting to grips with the fact that if you want to get better at something, then you have to work really hard. You have to practice a lot. You won’t always win. You might never win. I’m so proud of the way they deal with this and it never seems to put them off, they still enjoy what they do.
- Organisation. My children pack their own kit bags. I used to do it for them, but not any more. I’ll ask them if they’ve got everything, I might even have a sneaky check. Sometimes they’ll forget things but they remember them next time. My son made himself a check list – he wrote a blog about what he puts in his cross country bag (so exercise is encouraging him to write too!). There are race dates, rehearsal times, letters to bring home to parents etc etc. They’ve started writing stuff on the calendars on the wall in their bedrooms. It’s a lovely way to start learning about getting yourself organised in life.
- Confidence. This is a hugely important one for me. To be able to go on stage in front of hundreds of people and dance on your own, remember all your steps and smile at the same time, to have poise and hold your head up and speak confidently are all skills that will make interviews and public speaking so much easier in the future. They are learning what being nervous feels like and how to deal with nerves and those fluttery butterflies that make you want to run in the opposite direction. To have the self belief that you tied the knot on the climbing rope and you did it right and it will hold you and the person you are belaying to the top of the wall is a great way to learn to trust yourself and have confidence in your abilities.
- How to look after themselves. You tend to feel invincible as a child don’t you? I can generally look at the month ahead and pretty much determine if and when my kids will get ill. I know that a full on week with extra rehearsals and a show will probably leave my daughter sleep deprived and struggling with a sore throat. When my son voluntarily says he’s having an early night because he wants to do well in his race the next day I realise he’s starting to understand how to pace himself. They are beginning to get to grips with the fact that our bodies need respect and to be cared for. They also know if they are feeling grumpy or sad then they’ll feel much better after some fun exercise which to me is an essential part of looking after their mental health.
- Nutrition. We love food in our house. I don’t diet or talk about food in relation to my weight. We do however discuss which foods might give us the most energy or help to make us healthy. Why it’s a good idea to have a big bowl of porridge or scrambled eggs for breakfast when you have a busy day ahead of you. Why taking some cheese chunks or nuts to nibble on are great energy snacks and why a bowl of chicken soup is perfect when you finally get home after a long day of activities. I think, I hope, they are learning that what you put into your body determines how you feel and perform.
- How amazing their bodies are. I really believe that all three of them are starting to appreciate all the amazing things their bodies can do. The speed my son can get from A to B is incredible. The upper body strength of my son who can pull himself up into any tree he can find is to be admired. The memory power and flexibility of my daughter’s mind and body overwhelms me. They aren’t afraid to give things a go, they trust their strength and ability. They are discovering for themselves the joy that being active can bring. How it feels to be strong and healthy and the endless possibilities that gives them for the future.
So, when I think about the weekday evenings I spend driving around in the car picking up and dropping off . The weekends we can’t go anywhere because of sporting commitments. The hours standing in the cold at cross country races. The hours backstage looking after excited dancers. And the washing of soggy, muddy kit! I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t resent the time, energy or the money it costs me. Sport has so much to teach children, in fact, to teach us all and I’m very grateful to all those coaches, teachers and volunteers who make it possible for my children to flourish and develop such wonderful qualities and have a whole load of fun while they do it. Thank you.
Yes to all of this! Playing in the park is OK for little ones, but sport gives kids so much more than just exercise. Like your family, my kids all do different things, so it’s not exactly easy juggling it all, but I’m glad they’ve all found their own strengths and interests.
Thanks Sarah. It’s their love of it that makes the effort worthwhile. The juggling is insane sometimes but I don’t mind. I know you’re in the same boat.
A great article! I also have 3 active children, ferrying and logistics take a lot of organising. Some of our friends and family think we are mad, I suppose from the outside looking in it would appear frantic! But we as parents get to see what they are getting back when they are doing the things they love. I wouldn’t change a thing and actively encourage all engagement in sport and hobbies, they learn so many great life skills and hopefully they will take this into adulthood.
Thanks Nicola – yes I think some think I am mad too. I really hope they can take their love of exercise into adulthood. I’ve had some people comment that it doesn’t always happen so fingers crossed. Thanks for reading and commenting. J x
Such a great post! I agree with you on every point, so important to support our kids keeping active and leading by example xxx
Role models and normalising exercise are both really important. I hope we are instilling healthy habits for life.