The incredible benefits that youth sports provide to those who play them – e.g. higher grades, lower rates of obesity and deviant behavior, greater chance of being accepted into college, etc. – are well-documented. However, the fact that over 45 percent of our nation’s children continue to remain on the sidelines may not only be shocking for many to hear, but it should also be quite alarming.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), only 40 percent of kids throughout the country played organized sports on a consistent basis in 2013. Overall, there are 2.6 million less children playing organized sports today than there were just half a decade ago. Even more concerning is the fact that this same study found that less than one in three children engaged in any sort of high-intensity, calorie-burning physical activity at least three times per week.
The fact of the matter is that we need to be encouraging kids to become more active. Yet with rising participation fees and less opportunity for organized play continuing to plague the country, families often find it difficult to find ways in which to keep their children active and engaged on a daily basis.
But it is actually much simpler than you might think. Here are three easy and cost-effective ways to help you get started.
1. Pick Up a Pedometer: Ask any health professional, and they will tell you that walking is by far the easiest – both in terms of effectiveness and cost – way to stay active. Sadly, though, many people won’t even think twice about using an elevator rather than simply walking up a few flights of stairs. Pedometers are a great way to motivate someone to add more walking to their daily routine, as the product actually counts the amount of steps a person takes on a daily basis. Make this into a competition – challenge your child to walk a certain amount of steps each day, and increase the amount every few weeks. Reward them when goals are met (with something other than sweets), and celebrate their victory! Walking even an extra 15-30 minutes per day can burn anywhere from 30-60 more calories than normal, so challenge your children to start hoofin’ it more – and pick up this cool and inexpensive little gadget to help them do so.
2. Set “Outside Time”: As a millennial, I can’t go one holiday without hearing the old “When I was young, my parents had to chase me down just to get me back in the house! You kids never go outside anymore!” spiel from one of my older relatives – but honestly, they’re absolutely right. There is incredible value to spending more time outside; the fresh air, bustling noise, and sweet sunshine actually help to inspire physical activity. When the weather allows, set aside a certain amount of time each day where your child spends time outside, and join them when you can. Even if it’s a simple stroll around a local pond or diving through piles of leaves in the fall, being outside stimulates the mind and influences movement – and maybe you’ll even inspire a future biologist!
3. Tell Them to Join a Club: Some kids simply need a little extra push to get them out of their shell, and joining an after-school club or local community program which focuses on one of their main interests is a great way to start. Some children are intimidated by the thought of competition, so forcing them to jump into organized athletics may actually have an adverse effect in some cases. Start off by having them engage in a group setting with others who enjoy the same things they do, even if it’s not a sport. In turn, the sense of camaraderie and companionship they experience may ultimately persuade them to seek out other opportunities to continue feeling this way, and that could translate into an organized sport. Even if it doesn’t, becoming a part of a tight-knit group of people who accept you for who you are and share the same interests is vital to the development of any child. Most importantly, it will inspire them to continue to get out there and seek out new opportunities that they would never find sitting on the couch.
Above all, remember that kids want to be active and have fun; in a 2014 study conducted by George Washington University, 9 out of 10 kids said that “fun” was the No. 1 reason they would want to participate in any sport.
So inspire your kids to get up, get out, and simply go have fun! It’s a lot easier than you think.
Mike Mattes, Community Program Assistant