Sports for Life

"Sports for Life" is a lifelong philosophy towards fitness which involves choosing sports that can be enjoyed for a lifetime at a level which can be sustained.

Throughout a lifetime, there are a large variety of physical opportunities available. They can range from participating in a soccer team, taking swimming lessons, cleaning a house, doing yard work, playing football, dancing, and oh so many more. Some of these activities have greater appeal to specific age groups, and some are much easier logistically to do at certain ages. One aspect of a Sport for Life philosophy is choosing sports and activities that can be enjoyed by a majority of ages groups.

Think about typical physical activities enjoyed by active adults. The list may include, biking, running, walking, hiking, swimming, dancing, skiing, and tennis. Most of these activities can be done individually with little special equipment. Kids can learn to do all of these things.

Team sports such as baseball and soccer have a definite role to play in the lives of children, but become more difficult to do on a regular basis as adults. These sports build camaraderie, are fun, promote fitness and should not be ignored. However, as we get older, we run out of time. Finding practice and game times that can accommodate all group members is near to impossible.

Another aspect of the Sports for Life lifestyle is participating in sports at a level that can be sustained. So often, people say, "I'm training for the X run. I really need to get in shape so I can complete it." Although it is natural to have periods of greater and lesser fitness throughout life, being generally fit is an excellent strategy. Instead of focusing on winning the race, the person with the Sports for Life attitude would focus on being able to complete it no matter the season. Depending on the person and sport, this could mean being able to run a 5 km race on any given day, or a 25 km race on a given day. The point is the sport and amount is sustainable for the participant.

Competitive sports offered by many schools are in direct conflict with this philosophy. Instead of training the kids to be fit for life and enjoy the sports they are mastering, kids are required to attend practices 4-5 days per week and train at high intensity levels. The short term desire to win is strong with both the kids and the leaders of the activities. Unfortunately, in addition to creating burn out, these levels can lead to injuries which can eliminate most fitness activities for months at a time. Over a lifetime, adults will look back on the days they played a sport and say, "I wish I was in good enough shape to do that." Where as if they were taught to enjoy the sport, they may continue to do it forever.

Participating in family athletic activities and behavior modeling are the two major components of training kids to enjoy sports for life. When kids are young, going hiking as a family is easy to do. Kids don't need 10+ miles of trails. They will be happy with a mile long trail through the woods. Likewise, they don't need 100 mile bike rides, but riding bikes as a family will teach them that biking is something to always be enjoyed. This doesn't mean that kids shouldn't run on the playground, or ride bikes through the neighborhood. These activities are excellent for kids, but it is important for them to see that their adults enjoy these activities as well. Training kids to adopt a sport for life philosophy involves participating in the target sports with kids.

In addition to doing these activities with the kids, it's important for the adults to enjoy fitness on their own or with other adults. This is behavior modeling. When kids see their parents exercising each morning before work, they will grow up to do the same thing as adults. Instilling these behaviors at a young age results in healthy adults who enjoy activity.

The Sports for Life philosophy means learning to love fitness activities as children which can be enjoyed the entire life long. It also means enjoying these activities at a level which can be sustained. Not at levels that ramp up and ramp down to achieve certain goals such as finishing a really long running race. If you need to develop a PE program for your school, or are looking for a way to teach kids to be fit, I strongly suggest a Sports for Life philosophy.

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