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Motivating the Little Couch Potato

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Parents need to take an active role in getting their kids off the couch

Parents need to take an active role in getting their kids off the couch. One of the best ways to do this is through team sports. Regardless of the fitness level of the child, there is a team sport that can help develop new skills and increase physical activity.

Statistics over the past decade show a disturbing trend. According to a study by the World Health Organization Cross-National Collaborative Study: Health Behaviours in School-Age Children, since 1990, exercise among children has slowly declined.

Among grade six boys in 1990, 86 percent exercised two or more times a week outside school. In 1998, that number dropped to 71 percent. Among grade six girls, the results were 78 percent in 1990 compared with 57 percent in 1998.

From these results, it clearly shows that children need encouragement to participate in sports and physical activity, but girls in particular need to be motivated.

Similar studies conducted by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute indicate that 63 per cent of Canadians have reached the point where inactivity has decreased their health and quality of life. Getting children involved in team sports at an early age will increase their chances of being active their entire lives.

The health benefits alone derived from an active life should be motivation enough to get involved in team sports; the fun and friendships gained along the way are other incentives.
But getting your tater tot to put down his Nintendo and pick up a bat can be a challenge. Create the opportunity for children to participate in sports. Instead of joining them on the couch, visit the park, playground or recreational facility where sports are being played.

Encourage children to bring a friend. The idea of meeting a team of strangers will be easier if they join with someone they already know.

Schedule days or time periods when televisions, computers and video games are turned off. Take advantage of the opportunities and initiate just-for-fun sports in the backyard or with friends at a local playground. Everyone does not have to be the same age to enjoy the game. In fact, many fond memories can be made from an afternoon of ball with the neighbourhood kids and their parents.

Explain to children that it's important that they exercise regularly. The older the child, the more they will understand the benefits of being physically fit.

Above all, set a good example. Children whose parents are sport active are more likely to initially participate and will continue to do so throughout their teen years.

Choosing a Team Sport

Now that you've got your child interested in getting out and playing with a team, there are quite a few factors to consider in order to make it a perfect fit.

Think of your child's age. Sports that are too complicated or have too many rules may bore young children and they may lose interest. Certain sports like baseball have beginner-level programs such as T-ball that introduce children aged five and six to the basic rules and skills. As children grow and gain the skills, they'll enjoy more challenging sports.

How fit is your child? Less physically active children might wish to start off with less demanding sports such as baseball. For children who love to run and have plenty of energy to burn, they may be interested in soccer or hockey.

Consider your children's preferences. Ask and listen to what they would like to do. If kids are part of the decision-making process, they're more likely to keep playing.

How competitive is he or she? Not all children are destined for the Olympics. Put the emphasis on fun instead of high-calibre competition.

Make sure the sport is challenging. When children get bored playing sports, they'll stop. Rules that are too complicated, play that is too physically demanding or not challenging enough and sports that are disliked will trigger children to quit. Realize when a sport is unsuitable for your child and try another.

Baseball, hockey, soccer and basketball are popular, but this doesn't mean that all children like or are physically capable of participating in these sports. Trigger your child's interest with other team sports such as volleyball, swimming, badminton, tennis, cricket, boating and rowing.

Although parents are busier than ever, their children still can actively participate in team sports. Several organizations support community teams and help in many ways to keep children active. Information can be obtained by contacting the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada or the YMCA. Also, community centres, recreational centres, sports centres and schools usually organize team sports. Watch for notices in newspapers, community flyers and on bulletin boards for information and registration.

Benefits from Team Sports

Kids involved in their communities through team sports are less likely to suffer from eating disorders and drug, alcohol and cigarette addictions. They're more likely to become active adults and benefit in the following ways:

  • Improved physical fitness
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Higher school grades
  • Long-term friendships
  • Learning new skills
  • Improved coordination
  • Respect for others
  • Pride

Health Risks of Inactive Lifestyles

The following are the well-known results of a sedentary lifestyle:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Premature death
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