A recent study by the Youth Sport Trust (YST) found a link between confidence levels and taking part in physical activity. The research included boys and girls aged between 7-11 across England and found that the top five reasons children said they didn’t enjoy physical activity were that they didn’t like to get hot and sweaty; they weren’t confident; they weren’t good at it; they can’t keep up with friends and they worry about trying new activities.
It seems that participation in physical activity is affected by confidence - which is sad, because it is well documented that physical activity can actually help not only with confidence but also mental health, energy and general positive moods.
It is important then that we find a way to encourage children to enjoy their physical activity so that it becomes a positive part of their lives. Physical activity can help with things like exam stress as children get older, as well as being good for physical and mental health in later life.
Here are some suggestions for helping children to be more confident in joining in with physical activity.
Make it fun. The main aim should be to make it fun at this age. Trying to force children into physical activity will only give them negative associations which will end up having the opposite effect.
Make it part of the regular routine. These days children are often driven to and from school, and spend their time at home entertained by any number of electronic devices. Any attempt to engage them in physical activity comes as a break from the norm. When physical activity is a part of the regular routine, it’s easier to get children to join in. Perhaps walking to school one day a week, or parking a little farther from the school and walking from there.
Lead by example. If your children see you making physical activity a part of your daily life, they won’t find it odd to follow suit. This could be going for a walk on the weekends, going to the gym or joining in with a team sport.
Talk to them about it. This doesn’t mean sitting down for a long lecture on the benefits of exercise! It can be helpful to mention from time to time how beneficial physical activity can be for us. Saying things like "don’t you feel more energised on the days we walk to school?” can also be useful.
Give them toys that promote activity. These days the most popular toys on children’s wish lists will no doubt be things like video games and tablets, but giving them something "old fashioned” like a ball or a skipping rope can be that little nudge of encouragement they need to get moving.
Limit screen time. Limiting time spent passively in front of one screen or another can have the added benefit of creating boredom. When children are bored they are more inclined to experiment and try new ways of entertaining themselves.