I have said before that I think physical activity helps a lot with self-control. It is not a magic pill, but it does help. It also helps those kids that do not sleep well to sleep better. However, there are kids that resist strongly. My middle child is one of those. Ironically, he needs it the most. He had been doing wrestling off and on, but nothing consistent. He ran track a few years ago, but resisted going back. He rides his bike, but that is dependent upon the weather. Last year I decided I would not take no for an answer and I signed him for up for indoor track. He resisted practices, but it was no longer an option. I knew he needed to do this. He continued in track through the summer season. He lost every race this year, but he kept going to meets without resistance. When I talked to him, I focused on wanting to see him run his personal best. I talked to him about working hard, improving and running his own race. This year track gave me an avenue to talk about not comparing to others, but working to improve himself. He ran the 100, 400, and did the shot put. Although he didn’t win one race, I think he learned a lot about working hard.
With the little recreational wrestling he has done before I knew he really liked wresting. We had not signed him up for a club team, because it was hard to find one that he could join at his age. In June he did a wrestling camp. His coach specifically asked if he was going to join the team and said he had an affinity for the sport. The coach also took one look at my youngest, who is 4, and asked us to sign him up too. So 2 to 3 days a week both boys go to wrestling practice. Both of my sons love wrestling. They look forward to wrestling, but the middle child has also developed a love for track. He asked last week to skip wrestling practice and go back to track, because he had not been to track practice in a while. His track competition season was over so I had not pushed going to practice to allow him to get involved in wrestling. His wrestling coach is already talking about developing him to the point of winning college scholarship. He starts 6th grade in the fall. I am not relying on that, but it was great to hear someone talk about the talent they see in him. It was even better to watch the smile on his face as others complimented his ability to pick-up the sport.
My middle child is not social. He will be the first to tell you one of the reasons he does not like participating in different things is he has to deal with people. If I let him stay home he would, but what good does that do for him? He cannot develop social skills in the house, and he needs a positive outlet for his energy. I have heard parents say, “I cannot get my kid to do sports activities”. I had to approach it from the stand point that doing these activities is as crucial to my child’s development as going to school. How many of us would allow our child to refuse to go to school? We would not. Consistent physical activity for humans is essential for our mental and physical health. We must put as much importance on our kids eating right, moving often, and sleeping well as we do homework and learning reading, writing and math. I realize physical activity does not need to come through organized sports, but organized sports can provide a safe place for different kids to hone much needed social skills as well as get a good workout.
I encourage parents to find an activity and don’t take no for an answer. If your child is old enough explain the importance and let them help you choose the activity. Lay out the rules up front. One of my rules is once I pay you finish the season. If your child is artistic consider dance. I don’t care if they have two left feet, dance will eventually change that to a right and a left and they will develop great posture and core strength. This does not have to be ballet, it can be interpretive dance, African dance, clogging, tap, lyrical, jazz…. you get the point. Research different things with them if they are old enough, but don’t let participation be an option. If they love riding bikes, look for a cycling team. There are kid teams for most sports. Keep trying different things until you land on something they want to do. Keep talking to them. Unlike my son, my daughter landed on gymnastics early. She loves it and will be competing in the fall. This is a great physical outlet for her, and it also works on her ability to set personal goals. Even with her love of the sport she sets goals, but does not always put in the work to achieve them. I spend a lot of time with her talking about goals and setting a realistic plan to achieve them.
I know there parents saying, “you just don’t understand, this will be a fight everyday.” Yes, I do understand, because I fought that fight. I am still fighting it with my son on days his schedule is messed up. I have dealt with intense meltdowns, being told he refuses to go, and just an overall sense of stress related to getting there. All of this may tell you he should not continue to run, but when he actually gets to practice he participates fully and loves it. He just hates going. This will not work for every kid, but it is worth a try.
I will end with this, at his last track meet I asked my son if he wanted to continue to run the 400m dash. He seriously struggled in the race. I asked if he would rather run the 200m dash. He thought for a second and asked if I thought he could do it. I said yes, if he works hard he can definitely improve his time. He said he wants to continue to run the 400m dash. This made me happy for a two reasons. First he is, by default, agreeing to run next season, and second he is taking on a challenge to improve on something that is difficult for him. This is the resilience I want him to learn by playing sports. Also, I have watched him build positive social connections with the kids on his track team. All things that mean far more than actually winning a race.