There’s nothing like the Olympics, and now Paralympics, to motivate you to get off the sofa and get involved in sport. Watching all the young and not so young athletes in top physical condition excel at their sport, it’s inspiring. And the question on many people’s lips now is how do we inspire the next generation of athletes?
For me the answer is simple, it starts with parents encouraging their kids to get involved with sport. About parents understanding the benefits that kids get from sport and finding opportunities for their kids to participate. Maybe those sports are at school, maybe they’re at community centers and sports clubs. But you don’t have to look any further than the Olympics to see that there are sports to fit virtually every size, shape, and skill-set imaginable. Every kid does not have to play football, especially if they don’t like it.
I don’t consider myself a really sporty person. But I’ve played a number of sports and I’ve challenged myself to do various races and competitions. Track and field, softball, volleyball, tennis, running, cycling, american football, skiing, golf, swimming. I was never any good at any of them, but I tried. I was part of a team. I won. I lost. I fell down. I got back up.
And that’s what I want for my son. I want to find opportunities for him to try as many sports as possible and get involved. Some sports he’ll like, some he won’t. Some he’ll be good at, some he won’t. But eventually, HE’LL choose what he wants to stick with and I don’t think I should let my likes and dislikes get in his way. I don’t particularly like playing golf but maybe he’ll try it and that will be THE thing he loves. Should I say no you can’t play golf because I don’t like it? No, that’s just me projecting my opinion onto my child who is in fact an independent human being with his own ideas. He needs to find his own passion, not be forced into pursuing mine.
Why do I think sport is so important for kids? Every kid won’t make it to the Olympics, in fact most kids won’t. But participating in sports at any level builds character. Right now my son takes swimming and football lessons. And even at this early age there are things I see when I watch him and the other kids in class, things that I know translate into skills for almost any aspect of life.
- Physical activity. It’s no secret that childhood obesity is on the rise. Getting them out from behind the TV, the video game, or the computer and developing an exercise habit is a good thing.
- Discipline. Right now, my son is learning to listen to authority figures and take and follow instructions. In football, coach no longer lets us parents sit with our kids on the bench forcing them to pay attention to her direction. And they do. Later, he’ll learn that wanting to achieve in sport will mean having the discipline to practice.
- Teamwork. At my son’s age, he’s just learning to play with other kids. But learning to work with others, play as part of a team, and work toward a common goal, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to use this skill on a regular basis.
- Self-confidence. I’ve watched my son’s swimming classmate become so self-confident that she now fearlessly leaps off the side and into the pool. I can’t wait to see what she’ll have the confidence to do next.
- Achievement. When my son gets his little hand stamp at the end of football class or swims the length of the pool to reach me, I can see in his little face the sense of accomplishment. Even now, he understands how good it feels to work hard to achieve a goal.
- Losing. Winning is not everything and everyone does not get a prize. To me, even just being at the Olympics competing is an amazing achievement in my book, medal or no medal. Learning to accept that sometimes things in life will be difficult is important. Life is not all rainbows and unicorns.
- Respect. Sportsmanship means learning to lose and win with dignity. It means showing respect for others on the field and thus in life.
The UK government is investing £1bn in sports programs to solidify its Olympic legacy. And, this is great. But, I didn’t hear many athletes thanking the government for their success. Instead, I heard story after story of athletes who were thankful for parents that encouraged and supported them as they pursued their dream.
Will you be inspired to get your kid involved in sport? He’ll thank you for it later.