Some children are more athletic than others. How can you encourage your child to get active?
Physical activity is essential for our physical and mental health. But to get all the benefits, you’ve got to have fun doing it. So what should you do if your child doesn’t like sports?
Why do some children dislike doing sports?
If your child isn’t interested in physical activity, try to find out why. Although some children are naturally more athletic than others, everyone can find an activity that suits them.
Here are some points to consider.
- Is it too competitive?
Your child may feel pressure to be the best or to always win, and they may be anxious about how they’re expected to perform. This pressure may be coming from their parents, their PE teacher, their peers, or their coach.
- Is your child afraid of being rejected?
If they don’t feel like they’re good at the sport they’re doing, they may lose confidence and self-esteem. A child may feel this way if they’re always picked last in PE class, for example, or one of the last to finish a race.
- Do they need more support?
Kids sometimes need more attention and encouragement from their parents to build self-confidence.
- Does the chosen activity suit your child’s temperament and abilities?
Depending on your child’s personality and skills, they may be more comfortable doing a team sport (field hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer, etc.) or an individual sport (yoga, fencing, judo, karate, cycling, etc.). They may prefer short but intense activities, such as sprinting or shot put, or endurance sports like swimming, jogging, cycling, cross-country skiing, and skating.
- Is the difficulty level appropriate?
Children need the right amount of stimulation in order to thrive. If the sport is too easy or, conversely, too challenging, they may lose interest.
How can you encourage your child to get active?
Physical activity strengthens key parts of the body (the heart, muscles, and bones), reduces the risk of disease, and improves physical fitness and mental health. That’s why it’s important to get children in the habit of being active from a young age.
If you want to get your child moving, remember that physical activity should be fun. Suggest a few different activities, but let them choose the one they like best.
Allowing your child to try different sports is a good way to help them discover what they like and don’t like. Exercise should also be part of their daily routine.
- Choose activities that are appropriate for your child’s age and personality. Some kids like combat sports, while others prefer running or ball games. If your child doesn’t like a sport, don’t insist. Together, you can find another one that suits them better.
- Do physical activities as a family to enjoy quality time together and get your child moving. For example, go on family hikes or bike rides. Setting goals (e.g., reaching a scenic lookout on your hike) may help motivate your child. Dancing around the house or making a snowman together are other fun activities that may get your child excited about being active.
- Emphasize teamwork over competition.
- Help your child learn how to cope with failure. Remind them that a sport is just a game at the end of the day, and that doing it regularly is important if they want to stay healthy.
- Limit their screen time (phone, tablet, computer, television, video games). Make sure your child has enough time to play freely outside and to practise a sport.
- Encourage your child to participate in household chores and make these activities part of their daily routine. For example, ask them to carry light bags of groceries, help tidy up, walk to school with you, climb stairs, or shovel snow.
- Praise your child when they’ve been active, as this will increase their self-confidence.
- Be a role model. If you are active on a regular basis, your child will likely want to follow your example.
The development of athletic ability in children aged 5 and older
At around age 5, with regular practice, children should begin to master basic skills such as running, jumping, throwing, and catching. As they grow, their motor skills will also continue to develop.
Between the ages of 6 and 9, their balance improves. At this age, kids also begin to acquire more difficult skills, such as throwing farther. They are better at gauging the speed of objects, but their physical strength won’t develop much until adolescence. It’s also difficult for them to assess simultaneous pieces of information and make the right strategic decision during a game, for example. Since their attention span is still short, instructions should be kept brief, and rules need to be flexible.
It’s important for children to participate in a wide variety of physical activities. Actions such as throwing, catching, jumping, swimming, running, and balancing will help them build a solid foundation for their motor skills and coordination. Studies have shown that children who specialize in a single sport from a very young age don’t perform as well as their peers when they’re older because they haven’t developed the full range of motor skills.
Things to keep in mind
Help your child choose what sports to try.
Suggest team sports or individual sports according to your child’s preferences and temperament.
Keep in mind that sports and physical activity should be fun.
Physical activity is essential to staying healthy, just like eating, drinking, and sleeping.
Scientific review: François Prince, Ph.D., Kinesiologist, Université de Montréal Faculty of Medicine
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: March 2022
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
Public Health Agency of Canada. “Children and physical activity.” 2016. www.canada.ca
Public Health Agency of Canada. “Physical activity tips for children (5–11 years).” 2019. www.canada.ca
Broucaret, Fabienne. “Quel sport pour mon enfant?” Psychologies, September 2015. www.psychologies.com
Kino-Québec. Pour une population québécoise physiquement active : des recommandations. 2020. www.education.gouv.qc.ca
Raising Children Network. “Sport: Helping children enjoy it more.” 2020. raisingchildren.net.au
Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Physical activity for children and youth.” 2018. caringforkids.cps.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “When is my child ready for sports?” 2018. caringforkids.cps.ca
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. “Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for the children and youth (5–17 years): An integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep.” csepguidelines.ca