Kim Kowalski isn't pushing her 8-year-old son, Brad, to be a contender for a gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Nor does she expect him to be the next Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, or Peyton Manning. All she wants is for Brad to find a sport he likes.
Her other two children easily found sports that they enjoy in their hometown of Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Brad, on the other hand, has tried baseball, flag football, and basketball, but none have been to his liking.
"It's been frustrating," admits Kim. "But we'll keep trying because exercise and a healthy lifestyle are so important for Brad and my other kids."
She's right about that. With childhood obesity and Type-2 diabetes in kids rising rapidly, bringing up active children has probably never been more necessary.
And it's not only about physical fitness. The right sport can build self-confidence and teach valuable life lessons, such as the value of teamwork and how to deal with success and defeat, says Dr. David L. Marshall, medical director of sports medicine for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a pediatric health-care provider.
For many children and their parents, finding that right activity is a real challenge. Some, like Brad, are shy and hate being put in the limelight. Others seem, at first, to lack athletic ability. And some are too hyper to sit and listen to endless instruction.
"It's a common problem, no matter what type of personality your child has," says Dr. Steven R. Boas, a pediatric pulmonologist at the Children's Memorial Hospital Exercise Lab in Chicago. "But there is a sport or athletic endeavor out there for every child. It's just a matter of finding it."
THE SHY CHILD
All the hoopla and hollering from the sidelines makes these kids self-conscious and fretful of making mistakes. They're the ones standing in the outfield hoping and praying the ball won't be hit their way.
LET THEM FLY SOLO. Shy children often perform better in individual sports rather than team sports because the emphasis is on improving their own performance rather than relying on others. Swimming, track and field, figure skating, tennis, and golf are great choices. Martial arts are also effective at boosting self-confidence--thereby reducing shyness. Tae kwon do, judo, and karate are good places to start.
"These sports would not force a shy child to be put on the spot among his or her peers, yet would allow for communication with others on the squad," says Gary Wojton, a nationally certified physical education teacher at Peterson Elementary School in Chicago.
JOIN IN THE FUN. Shy children may be reluctant to play sports or even practice with other children. That makes it hard for them to improve. But they'll probably feel comfortable with you at their side.
Shoot hoops or kick a soccer ball around in the yard with your children as often as you can. Once they feel more at ease with a given sport, they may be willing to try it with other kids. "Aside from the bonding you'll do with your child, a shy child will feel freer to make mistakes around you and will have a greater chance of liking the sport," says Marshall.
TRY THE BUDDY SYSTEM. To make the transition to a team sport easier, make sure your child has a friend on the team. "Just having a familiar face around will make your child feel comfortable," says Dr. Cathryn Tobin, a pediatrician from Toronto, Canada, and the author of The Parent's Problem Solver.
WILLING BUT UNATHLETIC
Yes we love our kids, but that doesn't stop the inward cringe that comes with watching an enthusiastic, yet hopelessly uncoordinated, 7-year-old trip over his own feet during a youth basketball game. It's not a lot of fun for him either because, at best, the other kids never pass him the ball. At worst, they laugh at him.
GRACE CAN BE TAUGHT. NO matter how awkward your child seems, you should know that athletes are made, not born. Certain sports are better than others at developing the fundamentals that are important to all athletes--strength, coordination, and balance. Gymnastics is great for shaping most ordinary kids into athletes. Other good activities are wrestling, any of the martial arts, and racket sports.
GO FOR RAPID PROGRESS. Most nonteam activities, such as swimming, running, skating, and golf, allow kids to make almost immediate headway. "Kids need to see improvements or gains to stay interested in a sport," said Boas. "And they might be more likely to see those gains in an individual sport than in a team sport, where they might not play as much because they are not the best athlete." After all, nobody is replaced on the field and sent to the bench at a golf match.
HAVE A BALL. If your child insists on playing a team sport, try to steer her toward soccer, says Marshall. "In soccer, as long as you can run, you can play. There's really no advantage to being taller or bigger, plus everybody gets to touch the ball."
ENROLL YOUR CHILD IN A CLASS TO LEARN THE FUNDAMENTALS. Check out your local parks and recreation department, YMCA, or community college, all of which offer beginner instructional classes for a variety of sports.
THE COUCH POTATO
Often the challenge with this personality type isn't finding the right sport, but just getting your child off the sofa and into the game.
TRY MARTIAL ARTS. TaR kwon do and karate are great for overweight or inactive kids, says Tobin. They're dynamic and exciting and don't require the running that most couch potatoes hate.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE. Spend at least a half-day each weekend on family activities, such as ice skating, in-line skating, hiking, swimming, or skiing. "You'll be teaching your kids different sports and the value of exercise. And because it's quality family time, your child won't think of it as sports per se and will give you less resistance to participating," says Marshall.
MAKE A DEAL TO GET THEM ON THE MOVE. For instance, allow a child to watch television for an amount of time equal to the time spent in physical activity per day. "For instance, if your child plays soccer for an hour, allow him to watch television for an hour," says Tobin.
THE HIGH-ENERGY CHILD
You don't have to worry about keeping high-energy children active--quite the contrary. For them, you need to find a sport that holds their attention and channels their energies properly.
THE MORE ACTIVE, THE BETTER. It seems like common sense but is sometimes forgotten--rambunctious kids need to play rambunctious sports. Try team sports with a lot of movement and cardiovascular exertion, such as soccer, football, and basketball, says Wojton. Slower-moving sports, such as baseball, with all its down time between pitches, might drive your child crazy. The individual sports that are best for ultrahigh energy kids are ones with plenty of action, such as wrestling, racquetball, tennis, and cross-country running.
FIND A SHOW-AND-TELL COACH. Most kids--especially highly active ones--just want to play, not sit and listen to a coach go into intricate detail about strategy. Find a coach who quickly demonstrates how to play and then lets them go, says Marshall.
THE CHILD WITH PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS
More than 11 million children in the United States have chronic ailments--everything from asthma to cerebral palsy--that limits their physical activity. But that shouldn't keep them from finding a sport, says Dr. Lewis First, the chief of pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital and the chairman of pediatrics at the University of Vermont, both in Burlington.
"In addition to the health benefits of being active, sports and exercise activities can provide opportunity for children with physical limitations to gain a sense of accomplishment and independence," he says.
CONSULT WITH YOUR PEDIATRICIAN FIRST. Your doctor has--or can get--access to an American Academy of Pediatrics list that matches the right sports with any given physical limitation. For instance, children with asthma often do well swimming, says Tobin. Your doctor will also give your child a checkup to make sure it's safe for the young athlete to take to the playing field.
BE CAUTIOUS, BUT NOT TOO CAUTIOUS. Let her play--even if she has a disability.
"Oftentimes parents fall victim to what we can call 'fragile child syndrome,'" says Marshall. "They think because their child has asthma, that they should be handled with care and they shouldn't run. That makes the situation worse because the child can develop a weight problem along with their asthma."
Even children with more serious medical conditions, such as hypertension, cystic fibrosis, or rheumatoid arthritis, can play and compete in sports with the right precautions in place, Marshall says.
BE ON THE LOOKOUT. Now, more than ever, activities are being designed with your child in mind, says Boas. For instance, there are basketball leagues for kids in wheelchairs, programs to promote exercise for youth with asthma, and even summer day camps that include swimming and other sports for children with developmental disabilities. Ask your pediatrician or call the local Y to see if they know about any such programs where your child can get involved.
NOBODY WINS NOBODY LOSES
For some kids, it's not the sport itself that causes them grief--it's the whole idea of competition. It's hard for them to see the joy in physical activity when it seems to them that they walk off the field so often as "losers."
If that describes your child, be aware that there are plenty of noncompetitive activities where the emphasis is on having fun even while breaking a sweat. There's often a well-developed social aspect to these activities, too, so your child is likely to make some new friends while staying fit.
A few examples:
* Cross-country and downhill skiing
* Hiking clubs
* Biking clubs
* Dance classes
* Weight training (kids as young as 7 or 8 years can train with light weights, if they're properly supervised)
--Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, writer Bill Doherty's latest athletic pursuits include high-velocity diaper changing and full-contact peekaboo with his 1-year-old son, Brendan.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Meredith Corporation