Tech and TV temptations, no friends to play with, worries about fitting in -- in today's world, there are plenty of distractions and challenges that feed a couch-potato lifestyle.
And if children don’t view themselves as athletic or physically active, it can be even more difficult to get them moving. How can you help? Get them in touch with their inner athlete. That’s the part of them that enjoys physical movement and challenge.
Kids and Sports: Build an Athletic Identity
The way kids see themselves has a big impact on how they behave, says social psychologist Cheryl Anderson, PhD.
In a 2009 study, Anderson evaluated elementary school and middle school students. The kids who participated in the most activities were the ones who felt encouraged to be active, felt highly skilled in the given activity, and enjoyed the activity.
But not all is lost if your child doesn't feel naturally athletic. You can help boost her confidence so she feels comfortable moving. Start by helping her build skills (such as throwing, catching, or kicking balls) to make sports less intimidating and provide lots of encouragement. Soon she’ll see that sports can be fun.
"It's tough when you're young and you're the one who's picked last for a game. And it's hard when your buddies seem more athletic or mature sooner than you do," says exercise physiologist Randy Martin, MS, CSCS.
But that doesn't mean you and your child can't rise above it. Martin, who works at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D., says parents can help their kids learn to cope with such feelings.
"Be supportive and reassuring," he says. "Remind kids that they're still growing. They may not have reached their athletic maturity the way their friends have. Plus, they might just need to try another sport." Let your child know many professional athletes had to try different sports to settle on the right one.
With the right activity and a positive mindset, Martin says, kids often find that they're more athletic than they thought. That's why it's important to help children find the sport that pleases them -- not what they think pleases you -- and to support that interest.
Choosing the Right Sport for Your Child
Try these strategies to help your child find a sport.
Challenge yourself to find out what parts of being active your child likes. Then try to find an activity that channels her passion. "Look for something they can succeed at and have fun doing," says Michael Bergeron, PhD, director of the National Institute for Athletic Health and Performance and Center for Youth Sports and Health in Sioux Falls, S.D.
If soccer doesn't work, try basketball, swimming, dance, or martial arts. "If they're not allowed to play during games and aren't feeling good about themselves, they are in the wrong sport or at the wrong level," Bergeron says.