When I got to college, I discovered step aerobics. I lost the freshman 15 (despite lots of cheesy crust pizza, a Ben and Jerry’s on campus and cafeteria Magic Bars) because I found something active that I enjoyed doing. It was something I had never seen before, but I went one time with a friend and I was hooked. Going up and down (and across and over) that little step opened my eyes not only to how much I could enjoy exercise, but also to what I had the ability to do.
I never considered myself athletic. I had been a figure skater and a dancer (mostly tap, some jazz and ballet) throughout my life, but athletic was a title reserved for people who ran cross country or played soccer. However, as time went on, and exercise trends changed, I found more and more outlets that interested me–cardio kickboxing, spinning, Zumba, etc. And the more classes I took, the better shape I was in, which meant I could do other things I never dreamed of doing. I ran a half marathon, became a Zumba instructor and recently, I started coaching my daughter’s Girls on the Run team. I mean, who am I?
This is not meant to share with you the history of my exercise endeavors (although I do have some good stories about a class dedicated to jumping on an upside down BOSU ball). In fact, the bigger lesson is that there were many things I tried and I didn’t enjoy so I quit because no one is going to keep up an exercise regimen they dread (you can also ask me about the classes I took that made me cry. I am not exaggerating. Cry. In class.). The point of this piece is that we need to think differently about our kids (and ourselves) when it comes to athletics.
I happen to have a sporty daughter. It certainly came as a shock to me when she chose soccer over ballet (although now I am grateful because games are more fun than recitals). Friends are always telling me that their kids don’t like sports, so they don’t do anything active. That is where we lose these kids. It is not that they don’t want to be active, it is that they haven’t found their “thing” and we are not expansive enough in our definition of athletic. The dictionary definition of athletic is “physically strong, fit, and active.” It does not have to mean “good at sports.”
People think to sign their kids up for very structured athletic activities–sports, dance, martial arts, etc. That works for some kids, but for the kids that it doesn’t work for, we just say that they aren’t athletic. We need to think out of the box–there are other options out there for kids like Zumba Kids or yoga. It may be that taking a class is the problem and kids can be encouraged to take a weekly walk or hike or bike ride with a friend or parent. Maybe they would enjoy a set of weights in the house or an obstacle course in the backyard. Do they love birthday parties at Bounce places? Maybe a trampoline class at one of those places is the way to go.
Taking Joy in Healthy Habits
The goal is to get our kids to enjoy taking care of their bodies and staying healthy. It is important that they find joy in being active now so that they start healthy habits that they can carry with them. It is also important that we model that behavior. And by the way, the same rules go for us. We don’t have to be a marathon runner to be a role model. Taking that weekly walk with our kids is enough to show the importance of staying active. We should focus on exposing them to new things that may pique their interest. My two older children sometimes join me for workout videos at home and it is more fun when we do it together. There is no pressure to do the whole thing or to do it with me every time, but I encourage them to join in when the mood strikes or when they want to show me up. Sometimes all it takes is a game of stuffed animal dodgeball (a real game in our house) to get kids to enjoy running around for half an hour.
Everyone is different and there is no one size solution for showing our kids their athletic sides. That being said, each one of us and each one of our kids has the ability to be athletic. We just have to figure out what that means individually and a fun way to get there.