Sunday, 27 October 2013 06:09

Motivating Kids to Move

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Motivating Kids to Move









Each year thousands of kids decide to sign-up for soccer and, join a swimming or tumbling class, play tag with their friends and/or participate in many other forms of physical activity. Unfortunately, thousands more kids decide NOT to sign-up for classes, drop off of sports teams and do not engage in any form of exercise.


Statistics show that twenty-five percent of all children drop out of organized sport within the first three years (Vlach, March 2004). In addition, research shows that during the teen years, physical activity levels plummet. This is alarming for many reasons. The United States youth obesity rate has risen significantly over the past 20 years. This is raising our children’s risk of once age-related diseases, such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It is not just our kids; Australia’s health care costs are at an all time high and still increasing (Dietz, 1983).


An article in the Chicago Tribune reports that obesity is surpassing smoking as one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States. Health care and fitness professionals are concerned that today’s kids are tomorrow’s unfit and unhealthy adults.

For these reasons, more and more physical education researchers are focusing on sport and exercise psychology. They are attempting to answer an extremely important question? What motivates kids to stay in sports, get excited for physical education and stay physically active? The theories and potential answer to this question will help coaches, teachers and parents create an environment that will hopefully attract and retain children’s motivation level regarding physical activity.


What motivates kids to stay physically active?

It is extremely important for children to stay physically active. The health benefits are endless; research shows that physically active kids do better in school and also that fit kids are happier kids. In addition, studies show that healthy, fit kids grow into healthy, fit adults (Vlach, March 2004). Many parents know and understand this, but as a physical education teacher, I know that this information alone will not motivate kids to move. Again and again, studies show that the number one reason why kids participate in physical activity is because it is fun. Numerous types of research from surveys to observational studies report that if a child is having fun, he/she will continue the activity. Other primary reasons why children stay active are to be with their friends, make new friends, learn new skills, develop healthy habits and because they have a perceived level of competence in an activity.


Why do kids stop exercising or drop out of sport?

On the contrary, the main reasons for dropout is that they did not like the coach or did not feel like the coach was qualified, the skills and competition were not ability or age appropriate, there was too much pressure to win, a decrease in self-confidence in physical ability level and/or they developed non-exercise interests, such as music, art or reading.


What can we do to help kids remain active and fit?

As teachers, coaches, parents and/or guardians, we can do many things to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles to our children. Below are a few recommendations to take into consideration:


Be supportive and be a good role model!


The Presidents Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (PCPFS) reports that parents who recognize and reinforce their child’s interest and participation in physical activity through verbal and nonverbal means and who model enjoyment of their own physical activity convey a message that physical activity is important. PCPFS also cites that social support by coaches, parents and teachers has an enormous influence on physical activity levels in children (Graves, Meyers, and Clark, 1988).


Make exercise enjoyable and fun.


Always relay a positive attitude about exercise. As a parent, plan active family activities, such as a family hiking or biking trip. As a coach or teacher, be creative and innovative with physical activities. Run new and various drills, challenge your athletes, let the kids choose the warm-up and let the kids be kids. When kids are having fun, they are more likely to have an intrinsic desire to continue the activity in the future.


Focus on performance rather than outcome goals.


Out of all the resources researched for this article, winning was not listed as one of the primary reasons why kids continue to become involved in physical activity. Furthermore, too much pressure to win is one of the main reasons why kids drop out of sports. Too many coaches, parents and teachers only focus on the win and stress out their kids. Setting individual achievement goals for each child or letting the child set his/her own goals will give that child an opportunity to strive for and focus on accomplishing those goals. This is a great way for children to feel successful regardless if they win or lose (Vlach, March 2004).


Be a quiet spectator.


Nothing may embarrass a child more than a parent or other role model screaming at them from the sidelines during a game, fighting with the coach or other spectators and/or making inappropriate comments to a ‘team mate’ or other parent. It is easy to get wrapped up in your child’s activities, but try to resist urges, be positive and politely ask other unruly spectators to quiet down (Vlach, March 2004).


Keep pressure to a minimum.


The Journal of Sport Psychology found that youth sports participation can produce anxiety levels in the same range as other competitive activities such as band concerts and classroom tests. Kids want to impress and feel accepted by those who are important in their lives and a feeling of disappointment can be devastating. Always remember that children play sport and exercise because it is fun. Putting undue stress on a child to win, play better or to practice more can lead to frustration, burnout and sport dropout. Also, make sure your child wants to join the activity. Over influencing a child to play a sport or join an activity class may lead to quitting the activity and not enjoying it in the future (Vlach, March 2004).


Coach and teach democratically.


A study conducted by Martin, Dale and Jackson found that children prefer a democratic style of coaching. Teachers and coaches who allow their participants some choices in activity selection are associated with students who feel empowered and this is positively tied to motivated behaviours? (PCPFS). By letting kids make a few of their own decisions, kids will feel like they are contributing to the team’s success and help promote a healthy team atmosphere (Vlach, March 2004).


Kids that are involved in physical activities, whether it is sport, physical education class or just playing with friends, are more likely to stay out of trouble, find it less appealing to engage in unhealthy behaviours and remain a healthier child. Being supportive of your child, making exercise enjoyable, keeping stress to a minimum, creating a challenging environment, being a polite spectator, and letting kids make some of their own choices will help enhance motivation and send your kids in the right direction toward a healthy, active future (Vlach, March 2004).





Vlach, S. March 2004: Wellness Athletic Club:


Dietz, W. H., & Gortmaker, S. L. (1985). Do we fatten our children at the television set? Obesity and television viewing in children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 75(5), 807-812.


Graves, T., Meyers, A. W., & Clark, L. (1988). An evaluation of parental problem-solving training in the behavioral treatment of childhood obesity. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56(2), 246-250. EJ 373 116.

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