How to Raise an Active Child

I have to admit it makes me cringe when I hear parents say things like, “My child isn’t active.  She doesn’t have any interest in sports,” or, “My child doesn’t play sports.  He’d rather do other things.” When I come back with questions like, what activities have they tried, the parent will usually only give one activity. WHAT? Over the years, my eleven-year-old daughter has been in ballet, gymnastics, on multiple soccer teams, volleyball camps, a running camp and after-school running group, and swimming teams. She’s also had tennis lessons and snow skiing lessons. My husband and I decided when she was 4 or 5 that she would be involved in some sort of activity and if we had to try them all until we found one that stuck, then so be it.

So of all of the activities above listed, which one(s) stuck with my daughter? She’s now an avid swimmer and runner but all of the other activities fell to the wayside. My daughter has been on a year-round swim team for several years now and is going to try out for her school track and field team as soon as she is able next spring. That being said, our road to her being an avid runner has not always been easy.

My daughter’s first experience with running came when I signed her up for the kids’ dash at the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure. She was three years old and ran 50 yards.

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Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure

After the Kids’ Dash at the Race for the Cure, her next major running event didn’t happen for several years later. When she was 8, she ran in a kids’ marathon where she ran with a running group at her school, tracking her miles up to 25.2 and ran the final mile on the adult marathon course. A year later, I ran a half marathon in Branson, Missouri, the Roller Coaster Half Marathon and they offered a one mile run for kids. She ended up finishing in 8:25, despite the extremely hilly course during a cold, rainy morning and she had just turned 9 years old then. Sounds pretty good so far, right? Fast forward a bit from there and things went downhill quickly.

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Gymnastics is really hard if you’re a super-tall kid, like mine is

I am a runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. So far I’m up to my 40th state and I’ve been doing this since before my daughter was born. I currently run three races a year, so I’m out running quite a lot throughout the year. A few years ago she asked if she could run with me, to which I replied sure, thinking it would be a great way for us to bond. Then the whining and complaining started. She would say, “This is too hard!” and complain that she was too hot or too thirsty or too tired, and on and on. I told her before we even left the house that she would be setting our pace and if she wanted to take walk breaks that was fine. Quickly, however, I realized it just wasn’t working. She’d only last a few minutes before she was ready to walk and the whole time she would be complaining and whining. I couldn’t take it any longer.

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Running the last mile of the kids’ marathon
Instead of giving up, however, I tried a different approach. I signed her up with Girls on the run, an after-school running group meant to encourage girls to live a healthy active life and help them build up their confidence in themselves over a 10 week period that culminates in a 5k event. This worked even better than I could have imagined.. Not only did she see that she was indeed a good runner but she began to gradually build a love for running. Since that Girls on the Run 5k, she’s gone on to run three other 5k races, one of which she won second place in her age group.

Not only is my daughter a runner, she’s also an avid swimmer, her true love. At a pretty young age (two), I had put her in swimming lessons and she had always taken to the water well. So after ballet and gymnastics didn’t work out, I decided to put her on a swim team during the school months when she was in the second grade. This was the activity for her! She loved her coach and even enjoyed participating in swim meets. Since then she has had multiple coaches and has been on two different swim teams and if anything her love for swimming has only increased.

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First swim meet at the young age of 7

What is the biggest take-away from all of this? Don’t give up! If you put your child in a sports camp and it goes horribly, try another sport. If gymnastics isn’t for your child, try tennis, or basketball, or running, or ice hockey, or volleyball, or pick another sport. Keep trying until something sticks with your child. There are so many activities offered in most areas of the US that surely your child will enjoy one of them. Most of all, though, don’t wait. The younger you get your child active, the more it will become a normal part of their life.

Another piece of advice, don’t push your child too hard. Coaches are there to do their job so don’t try to coach your child or you risk turning your child away from the sport completely because it’s too much pressure. Simply encourage your child and tell them often how proud you are of them no matter what.

For resources in your area, try searching Eventbrite. Among other things such as music, they have a link specifically for sports and wellness and one for classes; both links include activities for children as well as adults. You can even search for specific events or categories or search by dates. I’ve found it to be a great resource for finding things going on in my area and when I’m traveling as well. Check out this tool to help you find events in your area.

How many of you are like me and are proud to have active kids? What activities are your kids involved in? Have you found it to always be easy to keep your kids active or has it also been a struggle at times for you?

Happy running!

Donna

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Tips for New Athletes (Runners, Cyclists, Swimmers, etc.)

When I was on a run recently, I had an idea to jot down some of the things I’ve learned over the years as a runner when I got home. These tips can be applied to many other sports as well besides running. I often have ideas for blog posts when I’m out running- funny how that is, isn’t it?

My top tip would have to be listen to your body.  Learn to know the difference between normal soreness and pain that lingers. It’s not uncommon to be sore a day or two after exercising heavily but if the soreness lasts for a week or more or feels more like pain than soreness, you should seek help from a professional.  For most injuries, if you catch them early you can treat them and your body can begin to heal much quicker than if you let it linger.screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-9-23-40-am

Another tip if you are serious about running your first race, be it a 5k, marathon, or triathlon and you have a specific time goal in mind or if you’re a seasoned athlete and want to go big, say to qualify for Boston Marathon for example, seek the guidance of a coach.  Coaches can do anything from give you training plans and advice online to meeting you at a local track in person.  A good place to start looking for a coach is to ask at local running or cycling stores or at Road Runners Club of America (if you’re in the United States).  Road Runners Club link  At the very least, look up training plans online or check out a book on running or triathlons for beginners from your local library.

You should also have appropriate gear before you start out. If you will be running, go to a locally-owned running store and ask to be fitted for running shoes to figure out the best shoes for your body and running style. While not absolutely imperative, it’s a good idea to get some athletic clothes made of synthetic materials that will wick sweat away far better than cotton. If you shop off-season or even shoulder season you can find some great deals. I personally like Kelly’s Running WarehouseRunning Warehouse, and Swim Outlet for great online deals but if you’re new to a sport, it’s always a good idea to try on the attire in person at a local store, plus it’s nice to support local businesses when you can. If you’re buying a new bicycle, you definitely want to find a local cycling store and try out the bike before buying it.

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Credit quotesgram.com

My final piece of advice is don’t give up. Running, cycling, and swimming are all hard if you’re training for something or you’re racing. Don’t believe anyone that tells you it’s easy. Some days are certainly easier than others but if every day you go out for a run/bike ride/swim feels easy, you’re not pushing yourself to your full ability.

Believe me when I say you’re stronger than you think you are.  If you train your body properly by gradually increasing your intensity or your distance but not both at the same time, your body will adapt and get stronger.  Just tell yourself when you’re out of breath and feel like you can’t go any further, “I CAN do this and I WILL do this!” and I think you’ll be surprised to see that you truly can.

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