As a parent, you want to do all you can to build your kids’ health and fitness. That includes nurturing a positive attitude toward physical activity and sports.
The opportunities for kids to engage in structured activities are almost too numerous. As a parent, I developed my own criteria to help choose fitness activities for kids. What was important to me was:
- Safety and low risk of injury This should top any parent’s priority list
- Skill mastery A sport or gym activity that requires learning increasingly complex patterns of muscle coordination or group interaction
- Developing balanced body fitness This includes challenging muscles of both the upper and lower body, training both right and left sides, and building cardio fitness and strength in ways that are age-appropriate
- The right blend of competitiveness, personal challenge, and fun
- The possibility of lifetime participation
- Mix of individual pursuits and team sports, organized programs and less-structured activities
- They gotta want to do it
Based on these criteria, here are my top ten sports, healthy games and gym activities for kids:
- Dance – Dance classes are excellent training for life. You learn awareness of your own body and develop fitness in a balanced way. There’s a creative element to dance, too. And you can continue to dance throughout life. Both of my boys took dance classes when they were little. It’s unfortunate that, as they got older, the number of other boys in the class thinned out and they eventually dropped out too.
- Kicking and punching (martial arts) – Fighting arts like tae kwon do and karate emphasize balanced body (and mental) development, build self-confidence, have a nicely orchestrated reward system of colored belts, and can be a lot of fun. This is also an activity that kids and adults can both participate in.
- Swimming – Every kid should know how to swim. It works on different levels: a relaxing activity, a good component of a basic lifetime fitness regimen, or an intense, competitive sport. There are two possible negatives about swimming. Some people have trouble with all the chlorine. And sometimes people who swim a lot can have shoulder tendon problems because of the repetitive overhead reaching. Good coaching is a must for competitive swimmers.
- Soccer – This is one of my favorite team sports. You’re running all the time. There’s teamwork involved. You learn to kick with both legs. You also have to develop your peripheral vision and overall field savvy to improvise strategically. The equipment requirements aren’t onerous. There are numerous adult leagues.
- Wrestling – More kids should wrestle – girls too. You have to be really fit to wrestle, but at the same time it’s a strategic mental game. Injuries are not that frequent.
My older son wrestled on his high school team and even though he didn’t plan to wrestle in college, I’m convinced that it helped him get into the college of his choice. He was involved in lots other activities in high school too – band, choir, and theatre. Of all these social groups, the wrestlers had the highest grade point average, and were the most ethnically diverse. Who knew?
Another great thing about wrestling is that the system of weight classes means that kids of all sizes can compete on a level playing field. One possible negative about wrestling – depending on the intensity level of the program, and where your child fits in the weight spectrum, sometimes there’s pressure to “cut weight” – use extreme diet, sweating, and exercise regimens to lose enough poundage to qualify for a certain weight class. This was never an issue with my son – if it had become an issue I would have pulled him out of the program without hesitation.
- Figure skating – can be a fun lifetime activity. It trains for balance, which is an important and often-overlooked movement skill. (Eighty years from now your kids will be less likely to fall and fracture their bones.) One drawback is that advanced skills, like jumps and turns, are typically practiced – unlike in dance – going in one direction only.
- Ice hockey – My appreciation of hockey as a good sport for kids has grown. The movement skills developed in hockey are incredible. And I know guys in their fifties and sixties who still play – so there’s a chance for a lifetime involvement. Girls’ hockey is growing in popularity too. One drawback – unless you live in a cold climate where the ponds freeze in the winter, there can be a lot of equipment costs and other expenses.
- Ultimate – Ultimate is more than a bunch of latter-day hippies tossing a frisbee around. It’s actually a serious sport (well, maybe it’s not that serious) that leads to conditioning, teamwork and sportsmanship.
- Yoga – Engages and integrates mind, body, and spirit – the whole package. Develops self-control, calm amid chaos, and a lifelong appreciation of your body, both its limits and its incredible capabilities.
- Hiking, canoeing, kayaking – Experiencing nature. Rising to physical challenges. Anybody can do it at any age. Can be enjoyed as a family or with groups.
As a parent, please take an active role in encouraging your kids’ health and fitness. Based on your understanding of your child’s physical and social development, make positive choices about healthy activities for your kids.