America has long been a nation of athletes. Americans win the most medals at the Olympics, rank among the top players in many disciplines and hold a great number of world records. Many new sports, including the X-games, were invented here.
The vast majority of our children play sports at an early age. For many parents, supporting their kids’ athletic activities often becomes a full-time job. Soccer moms, hockey moms and coaching dads rush back and forth between events to provide their offspring with everything they may need to excel on the fields and courts of their choice.
Playing Sports at a Young Age
Brings Out Talent and Promotes Good Health
By contrast, physical education (PE) has long fallen victim to financial cut-backs in most public schools all over the country. When it comes to physical exercise, especially poor children are regularly left behind, and the consequences for their health can often be devastating. Why and when it was decided that PE should be an expendable part of schooling, I don’t know. But the thought of our kids growing up without ever having been taught about the important health benefits of regular physical activity gives me the creeps.
Physical exercise is a necessary part of life for all children. Especially during their growth spurts, their bones and muscle tissues must be put to work in order to develop to their full size and strength. The health of hearts and lungs, the ability to digest food and burn calories, these all depend on physical fitness. Self-esteem and confidence are built in large parts on athletic competitiveness and the experience of success.
I’m by no means opposed to computers, video games and the Internet. Spending time with modern-day gadgets from early on is necessary to prepare our kids for the challenges of a technology-driven world. But I am against young lives being thrown off balance by a sedentary lifestyle, often combined with poor eating habits, which can cause severe health problems at a critical stage. Childhood obesity and diabetes are part of an unacceptable epidemic that we must not allow to spread any further. Make no mistake, children who lose their health, lose their future – and that will eventually affect us all.
Parents, of course, are the best line of defense we can hope for. Young children learn mostly by imitating the adults and the older siblings in their families. So for them having good role models matters greatly. As always, actions speak louder than words. Kids who grow up in surroundings where physical activities are valued and practiced will find it easier to maintain a lifelong fitness regimen. On the other hand, kids who adhere to a sedentary lifestyle early on are much more at risk of developing weight problems later in life.
Every child must be given opportunities to be physically active in some ways. That doesn’t mean that parents have to go out and buy the latest, most expensive sports equipment. All sorts of games and leisurely activities can be useful. What matters is that they take place with regularity.
For instance, there are many informal ways of exercising that can be part of a family’s daily routine, such as walking or bicycling to the shopping center or a nearby park, instead of driving. Taking stairs instead of elevators whenever possible is a good idea. Weekends can be filled with hiking, swimming, roller skating, shooting hoops, even gardening or raking leaves.
Whatever you decide to do as a family, it is important that everybody is having fun. If your kids are forced to participate in some silly family event, they will soon resist. It is better to respect their choices if they don’t feel like kicking a ball around but rather play video games or listen to their music – as long as there is a healthy balance. If they don’t enjoy their physical activities at a young age, they won’t continue them on their own in later years, no matter how beneficial it would be for their health.