When the kids were little, we didn’t have two nickles to rub together. We thought it was important for the kids to be home with a parent so, I left my career, sucked it up and we lived tight and simple. The payoff turned out to be pretty cool. The kids didn’t have technology, we didn’t and still have never had other than antennae tv, we had basic backyard play equipment, liked to play, get out for adventures and try new things. There were lots of times the kids were on their own to do what kids know best, how to play, and times they would be thrown into whatever we parents were into doing. So, they would run, climb, swing, dig, hit, dance, lift, pull up, roll, jump, throw… on their own. And we took them hiking, biking, skating, sledding, swimming… from the time they were infants. I wanted to expose them to anything and everything I could. When he had opportunities to try things, we did. If we could only watch, we watched.
In 2000, Cierra played happily on the living room floor. Most days, we had PBS on in the morning for background interest, but during that summer, we watched the summer Olympic Games. She was 4 years old. As many events would be shown, we’d both casually glance at something of interest while doing other things. I noticed though that C would stop and sit on her knees close to the screen whenever swimming came on. I’d shake my head not getting how a preschooler could be captured by something that wasn’t “pretty” or a game or anything other than little stick figures going back and forth in a blue rectangle, but she was glued every time. On the third day of swimming competition, parked in the same spot, there was a defining moment in her life. At 4, she pointed at the screen, turned to look at me and said, “I’m going to do that Mommy”. It was one of those moments that get frozen in time because there was something about it that meant something. I could have ignored that moment. I could have said we couldn’t afford to do anything. I could have thought she was only a preschooler and blown off what she said. But we didn’t.
Since she didn’t even know how to swim, I thought we should get her to a pool. I didn’t have any ambition of her becoming an Olympian, I just thought we should let her try swimming and see if she liked it. It made sense for all the kids to be safe around water, so there was no reason not to make this happen. We went to the local YMCA. I haven’t been able to keep her out of the water since.
Rick Powell fell in love with kayaking at 3 years old. He went to the Beijing Games. Shaun White’s family took him snowboarding when he was 5. He was obsessed with it at 6. He’s defined competitive snowboarding. Michael Phelps began swimming at 7 because his older sisters swam, he became the greatest Olympian of all time. Peyton Manning played football in the yard with his dad and brothers when he was a kid and just went to the Superbowl for the third time.
Giving children the time, space and permission to play everyday is one of the greatest gifts we can give them for it is through play children learn to develop their social, emotional, mental and physical skills- David Kittner @youthfitnessguy
Goal: Build a base wide and strong enough to support future success.
- Take your time and have fun with your kids. Be Adventurous and PLAY!
- Recognize that development is a PROCESS. Growth is incremental. Praise their character, not outcome.
- Use common sense, good judgment and balance
- Love, respect and encouragement should always be present along with developmentally appropriate guidance, high expectations and standards. At this age, everything is just being introduced so go easy. Say, “Have fun”, “I’m glad you’re being brave and trying something new”, “What did you like about playing?” “I love you. It’s fun to watch you find out what makes you, the best you!”
Clarity: expose your kids to as many great experiences as you can provide them: physical, intellectual, creative…
- Don’t over-protect them, but allow them to try anything they might be interested in trying. You never know… btw..being dirty, sweaty and getting bruised and cut once in awhile is definitely okay.
- Make it normal to try new things and develop their internal compass about whether they like something or not.
- The wider their activity and experiences, the wider their opportunity and greater strength for success will be.
Individual Play: Expose them to a wide variety of activities that will engage lots of movements. They’ll gain strength, agility, coordination, body awareness, endurance, flexibility. They’ll also gain basic skills of running, jumping, leaping, throwing, catching, lifting, kicking…
Game play: Find places for them to play games with others. Keep the variety high.Encourage fun and getting the hang of taking turns, following rules, winning/losing.
Early Elementary- Add instructional opportunities:
So they learn to be:
- Centered: help them focus on their internal compass by asking questions about what they think, feel, what they learned, how they’d do something differently…
- Coachable: make it normal to listen, to evaluate and apply suggestions for improvement without being overly emotional.
- Commited: don’t let them quit when something is hard, uncomfortable or they don’t succeed right away. Say, “I know it’s not easy, but you’ll get better and might get it if you try again”.
- Composed: focus on the process of learning, be objective, not emotional, talk about their effort, attitude, and actions not outcomes or their person.
- Competitive: encourage them to “compete” against themselves and to improve each time they try something. Praise their effort to win and resilience when they don’t.
Sportsmanship: introduce team sports and competing in contests.
- Me vs. We: help them see when something is about them doing what’s best for them, and when they need to do what’s best for the team.
- Introduce them to winning and losing, playing to win, learning in defeat
- model and encourage mutual respect of “friends on the field”
If your child becomes crazy in love with one thing…
If they are ridiculously natural at it…
Don’t lose your head. It’s still really, really, really, important to build a wide and strong base that will support future success. Let them have fun. Play!
Christopher Collier has been a youth physical education teacher, USA Swimming developmental and high performance coach and now coaches swimming at the University of Wisconsin. He has coached beginners to national team and Olympic athletes and specializes in youth fitness, performance, coach-athlete relationship, and college recruitment.
Tom Hurley is owner of Dominant Athletics where he specializes in youth fitness, performance and sports and exercise psychology. Tom is also a contributing author of “The Definitive Guide to Youth Athletic Strength, Conditioning and Performance”.
David Kittner, from Canada, is a leading authority within the International Youth Conditioning Association and contributing author of “The Definitive Guide to Youth Athletic Strength, Conditioning and Performance”. He is a youth fitness, speed and agility and nutrition specialist.
Jen Croneberger is founder and CEO of Excellence Training Camps. She’s a team-building and mental game specialist.