Fitness starts early—from a child’s first steps! When Mom and Dad let their toddler’s hands go, momentum thrusts him forward, and he has to work to control his shaky legs. A child’s first steps are a milestone in his development—and a proud parent’s fond memory. From now on, a child’s relationship to sports and fitness can grow or wither. Parents play an integral role.
Media headlines in recent years have focused on the epidemic of obesity in the United States. The fact is children will ultimately take on the habits of their parents. If Mom and Dad tend to sit in front of the TV for hours after dinner, so will their kids. Or, if parents are so busy that they hand their little ones touch screen devices to distract them constantly, chances are that those kids will engage more with computers than traditional toys, the outdoors, or other children.
The outlook may seem bleak. After all, what new parent hasn’t handed her little one a cell phone to avoid a tantrum? Doing this occasionally isn’t going to totally undermine your child’s future health, provided that you balance it with instilling healthy habits. If you’re not sure how to do this, don’t overthink it: start with sports.
Creating healthier habits will take some effort, but it doesn’t have to be a herculean task. Start by setting aside quality time before or after dinner to play catch in the backyard. Get everyone involved, and you’ll bond while getting your heart rate up a bit. Kicking a soccer ball around, tossing a Frisbee, and shooting hoops are all variations that work well at both the local park or at home. Make it about having fun, and encourage your kids (and even your spouse) so no one feels pressure. You want to create an enjoyable way to get active, not an environment that will drive your child away.
Another great way to add fitness to your lifestyle is to sign up for team sports. Opportunities abound for both kids and adults. My favorite is baseball, but soccer, volleyball, and basketball are all great options, too. You can make attending a game or a match a family activity and cheer each other on! You can also train at home—just remember that it should be about fun, for both you and your children.
If you need an alternate way to get into sports as a family, start out as a fan. Watch your local teams on television, and make a family event of seeing a game live. If a professional sports stadium isn’t close by, find a match or game that’s open to the public at a local college. Sometimes, seeing the strength and prowess of an athlete in action will inspire your kids to want to play a sport.
Finally, if you don’t have a yard or a park nearby for fitness activities, get creative. Walk to a place where you’d normally drive. Or just go on a walk for the sake of doing so. Maybe plan an active family outing every other Saturday, one that takes you outside of your normal comfort zone and allows you to explore. It may not be a sport, but if it works for you, it’s perfect.
Kevin Christofora, a father and little league coach, is the author of The Hometown All-Stars children’s book series and a devotee of baseball, America’s favorite pastime. Through his book series, he aims to teach young people about baseball and the habits of a healthy lifestyle in the form of a fun and educational bedtime story. More information can be found at www.thehometownallstars.com.