The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

July 12, 2012

Sarah Coyne: Sports, like books, help kids learn, too

JOPLIN, Mo. — Upon inspection, the activities I wish for my children as they grow are heavily weighted toward a love of reading, learning and creating. It’s not surprising, considering those are the things I enjoy. For me, nothing promises more entertainment than a newly acquired book. I would argue for hours that literary and artistic pursuits are vital to our children’s development into intelligent, thoughtful, empathetic individuals.

But I would also be missing half the boat -- the athletic half.

The empowerment and confidence children can gain from immersion in sports is at least as beneficial as my beloved book learning, but with added health benefits. They’ll also learn resilience, self-reliance and teamwork.

It’s with some chagrin that I admit strong bodies, as well as strong brains, should be what we wish for our kids. Thankfully, our children are usually surrounded by athletic opportunities, and are born hardwired for fun.

With the summer Olympics approaching, I’ve finally been talking with my daughters about sports more encouragingly. My non-sporty self is lucky enough to count on my husband’s athletic enthusiasm and know-how as we talk up the summer games. Here are some ways we’ll try to introduce a love of sports to our children, courtesy of London:

  • Plan a party: It might not be for the opening ceremony, but at some point during the games, we’ll throw an Olympics party. We’ll choose a sport that our kids seem excited about, consult the schedule and party while we watch the event unfold. There’ll be snacks, waving flags and gold medal favors. We’ll do a little bit of research about who our favorite athletes are and cheer them on as they race to the finish.
  • Attend a camp: Local schools and gyms are busy during the summertime hosting day camps for little ones. Volleyball, tennis, soccer, swimming -- we’ll be contacting schools and coaches to find out if any groups are holding day camps where we can let our kids dabble. Being surrounded by other rookies, as well as impressive high school camp leaders, might just be what our kids need to find their love of sports.
  • Count medals: Each night, we’ll check on our favorite country’s medal count. As the sports change and shift, we’ll share the job of tallying golds and silvers and guessing which country will have the most at the games’ end. Our kids will begin to see that sports are beloved and valued around the whole world, which will hopefully lead them to be more interested in athletics. And a little bit of summertime math never hurt anybody.
  • Go play: When interest is high after watching a round of Olympic soccer or basketball, we’ll try to head out and play as a family. My own daughters are of the impression that sports are impossibly difficult and confusing, so we’ll aim for fun rather than perfection. There will be minor references to rules, but mostly we’ll encourage simple play. The drama of competition can come later when the kids are more confident with their ability to keep up. Plus, seeing mom and dad -- those people who know nothing -- do sports, might increase our kids’ I-can-do-it-too factor.

Yes, we already love the library and the ballet studio, but we might also come to love the tennis court or the diving board. Letting our kids experience the summer Olympics could be just what we need to set them on a lifelong path of sportiness.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.

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