Hudson Valley Experts Suggest Ways for Parents to Make Exercise Fun for Their Kids

Getting Kids Active is A Balancing Act for Mom and Dad

Childhood obesity statistics are sobering and the conclusions are alarming: Despite medical advances, the life expectancy of children today is lower than previous generations.  The main cause?  Inactivity.  Mike Tangney, who with his brother, Dan, run CourtVision, a basketball program at PrimoSports, offers one key tip for keeping kids active.  “Make it fun.” Richard Lykes of Lykes Martial Arts in Saugerties adds his tip, “Lead by example.”  

Why are kids less active today?   

But, let’s get back to why today’s kids are less active. Two main reasons are competition from video games and the Internet. Simply put, technology is both more fun and more immersive than it used to be.

Parental anxiety and overwork. Parents today are less willing to turn their children loose in the neighborhood for long days of unstructured outdoor play. Instead, play takes the form of organized sports that require transportation and registration fees. If kids played in a vacant lot or big backyard, they could learn what they like and then they could sign up for that activity at school or join community teams. It’s harder for kids today to know the answer to “What sport do you want to play?” 

What can parents do? 

Approach the issue in a way that addresses it, says local youth sports organizers. Here are some tips to do that:

*Make it fun – “The way the kids are now, you almost have to come up with a way that they don’t even realize they’re working out,” says Mike Tangney, who, together with his brother Dan, runs Court Vision, a basketball training program in Orange County. The program helps basketball players who play on school or rec teams hone their skills, and for younger kids, there are skill-games that help build technique. “If we want to work on dribbling with a five- or seven-year-old, we need to come up with a game to fit that because I’m not going to be able to send the kid up and down the court and say dribble with your right hand, dribble with your left hand, dribble behind your back.  It just doesn’t work anymore.” 

Read why whether a team or individual competition, all sports have benefits for kids

It’s up to the organizers to make the program interesting, so when shopping around, speak with the organizers to discuss their approach to skill building and practice. Those with enthusiasm and new ideas are more likely to create a situation that will sustain your child’s interest.

*Make it educational – If you’re not good at something, you probably won’t have much fun doing it. Especially if you have to do it in a high pressure situation in front of your peers. Not being good is a big reason why children choose not to play sports, so a good program needs to balance the fun stuff with instruction in the fundamentals. “Sometimes people will make it fun but then they don’t teach the basics,” said Cindee Rometo, president of Orange County Cal Ripken League, a baseball and softball program.

“So the kids are okay doing it for the first year, but they’ll soon realize that if they’re not able to compete well with the other kids then they won’t like it. Learning new skills can still be fund. It depends on the program’s approach.”

*Lead by example – The goal is to instill a life-long love for physical activity and an appreciation for feeling healthy. So if you’re not already eating right and exercising, use your children as a motivator. “You have to lead by example,” said Lykes. “I make sure I exercise. I work out because I think that’s important. Parents being physically involved in something. I think that’s real encouraging.”

*Play with your kids – If you help your child practice, you accomplish two important things: improve their skills and create a positive association between sports and parental affection. “They kind of equate it with that nice time that they’re spending with dad or with mom,” said Rometo.

*Consider more individualistic sports - Dance. Gymnastics. Swimming. Martial arts. All provide great exercise and lessons in self-discipline without placing the emphasis on winning and losing that can be so discouraging for less gifted children. “Finding something that the children are interested in, I think that’s the important thing,” said Lykes. “I love team sports, but sometimes team sports lead to a winning team and a losing team. Sometimes the kids that aren’t good at team sports get left out.”

Ensuring  your child every opportunity to strengthen their body as well as their self-esteem is a parent’s duty. Grand Master Hong of the Hong's International Martial Arts School in New Windsor and Poughkeepsie says, “One of the best gifts for children is the opportunity to possess the powers which lead to a successful life.  Powers like patience, concentration, and humility.” 

And the goals of Iron Dragon, a Middletown martial arts school, is to help students improve physically and mentally regardless of their abilities. Says Master Mikhail A. Kuns, “We teach ways to defend to themselves in any street self-defense situation while keeping an eye on making it fun.”    

Be a parent – Even a parent does due diligence and finds a good program, provides a good example, and is willing to help the child practice, but it might not be enough. If the child is still loathe to leave the couch, a parent should push back a bit, says Lykes. “Parents have to be parents,” he said. “I always say, ‘we need to find an activity that you enjoy doing,’ and not accept that they’re not going to be physically active.”

Will Dendis is the editor of the Saugerties Times and freelance writer whose work has appeared in several local publications.  He lives in New Paltz.