I read an article only the other day about the fact that children are starting to do insufficient exercise from the age of just 7 years old. I found this surprising because when I was a child, I’m pretty sure this was the age when children started to get really into a particular sport. How will we ever encourage the olympians of the future if they’ve already grown out of sport by such a young age? Here are 10 ways to get outside and encourage a love of sport.
Did you know that children could take part in park from from the age of four years old? My daughter did her first park run not long after starting school. And do you know what? She ran the whole 5 kilometres. It gave her a new-found love of running that has continued. Whilst park run isn’t a race, there is a competitive element to it due to the nature of being with other runners. And for a child who suddenly realises she can keep up with the grown-ups, that’s brilliant. Being good at something builds both confidence and enthusiasm and better still, park run is completely free.
This is a great family game, particularly in the summer. I remember taking a toy baseball bat and a tennis ball to the field as children and playing rounders with the whole family. We’d use jumpers as posts and split into teams to play. I was never particularly good at rounders and didn’t relish the idea of taking part at school. And yet with family, it was brilliant fun. If nothing else, it got us away from television screens and made us remember how much fun it was to be outside running around.
Open water swimming
This is a bit of a controversial one because you need to be absolutely sure that you can do it safely. But this shouldn’t put you off. There are plenty of beaches with lifeguards where you can swim. Many open water swimming lakes offer organised sessions. Not everyone will love swimming indoors but there is something about swimming in open water. It’s a totally different experience being totally submersed in nature. My girls have swam in the sea, a lake and a river. All were controlled and safe and yet inspirational.
Please don’t read this and think I’m a football fan. I’m really not. But get a group of children together and give them a football, and in their minds they’re playing for their country or their favourite team. It helps to develop imagination, social skills and team-building. And best of all, they’re running around in the fresh air playing a game that could stay with them for life. I know so many adults who still play football in some form well into their 50s and 60s. So this time they’re spending on the football field as children could set them up for a lifetime love of sport.
Climbing is an activity that can be done anywhere and by anyone. Don’t let a fear of heights or a worry about expensive equipment put you off either. Bouldering can be done without going more than a foot from the ground and is a great way to get into climbing. Once you fall in love with the sport, you can get involved with clubs and start to tackle harder climbs. It is great for upper body strength and is often something that children naturally take to. For a child who thinks they’re not great at sport, this can be a real confidence boost.
All over the country, there are free tennis courts. You need to take your own racket and balls, but if you’ve got those you can just pitch up and play. And if you don’t own a racket, don’t let that put you off, I’ll let you into a little secret. Over the past few years, my husband and I have picked up several tennis and squash rackets from charity shops. There are always rackets available and sometimes you can get a real bargain. As a novice, all you need is something to hit the ball with so grab some rackets for a couple of pounds and get out and play!
Many years ago, we bought a camper van. It was in no uncertain terms, rubbish. However with that camper van, we got a surf board. It was the sort of board that was probably great when it was new, but these days it’s covered in dents. You’d pick one like that up for next to nothing second hand, or alternatively you can hire one. And once you’ve got a board, surfing is pretty addictive. The first time you catch a wave and stand up, you feel invincible. For about a second until you feel like you’re being dragged under the waves. But then you want to do it again, and again, and again. For a child that doesn’t necessarily love the usual sports or one who sees themselves as a bit too cool for school, surfing could be the sport for them.
Walking is the thing that gets me outside every day, whatever the weather. My dogs need to be walked and it’s down to me to take them. For older children, being responsible for a dog or even just picking something up from the shop can get them walking. If they’re not old enough to go alone, holding the dog lead or being allowed to hand over the card at the checkout if they’re shopping can be motivation enough to get out there. Walking never seems like too much effort but it’s the perfect way to keep the whole family active. It’s great to get children interested in nature and the outdoors too.
I don’t know about you, but I always find we’re a lot more active when we’re camping. Nobody wants to just sit inside a tent or caravan so while somebody is cooking everyone else is outside. Running around, riding a bike, playing football, swimming in the sea. You name it, there’s something active going on. This can be a great kick start to stay active when you get home.
When I was a child, my basketball was my most prized possession. It wasn’t expensive but it was mine and it opened up a world of possibilities. With friends, I’d go to the local sports area and use the free basketball court. We’d spend hours shooting at a basket, usually missing. Even on my own, I’d practice using the ball. Throwing it against the wall, bouncing it, shooting baskets and even spinning it on my finger and rolling across my arms and shoulders. I was never going to be asked to join the Harlem Globetrotters, which I’m still a bit upset about. But nonetheless I had hours of fun that didn’t involve being in front of a screen.
What are your tips for getting children interested in sport? I’m firmly of the opinion that there’s a sport out there for everyone, some people just need a bit more help to find it.