Children's Hospital Colorado

My Kid Isn't Athletic

Two girls on bikes at the pond.

You see those kids practicing drills on the field, running sprints at the gym or getting up early for swim practice and you think, “That's just not my kid.”

You're not alone. Many kids don't like traditional, sports-centered activities, and they really don't like it if they feel forced to participate. But with the right approach, says Children's Hospital Colorado sports medicine specialist Emily Sweeney, MD, you can get nearly any kid moving around outside.

Here are her six tips for getting kids out of the house and having fun.

1. Make it painless

Many people think of exercise as suffering through something they don't like to do. Not surprisingly, this approach does not enjoy a high rate of success. “For kids — and adults — it's important not to feel forced,” says Dr. Sweeney. “Expose kids to a lot of activities and let them do the ones they like. Then it will feel like play.”

2. Play games

Nothing feels like play more than actual games. Run a race, play tag or try a scavenger hunt. Searching for a certain color or type of animal is a great way to spice up a regular old walk.

3. Get them on wheels

Kids love scooters. That's almost universally true. For kids on the younger side, big wheels and tricycles do the trick nicely. For kids a little too old for scooters, there are skateboards and bikes. (Just remember: Always wear a helmet.)

4. Pick a destination

Heading to a favorite spot, like a park or a restaurant, on foot or on bike instead of in a car makes getting there part of the fun.

5. Learn a new skill

Toys like jump ropes, skateboards and hula-hoops get kids engaged because they take practice. They also promote a sense of accomplishment. For a more formal approach, says Dr. Sweeney, “Rec center classes are usually pretty inexpensive. Whether it's swimming or karate or yoga, they can try a bunch of things and figure out what they like to do.”

6. Be flexible

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that kids get at least an hour of exercise a day. A whole hour can feel daunting for busy parents, but even 20 or 30 minutes outside is better than none. (And 20 minutes is enough time for their physical activity to boost your kid's mental health, too.) Do what you can. And as long as kids are dressed for it, there's fun to be had in almost any weather at all. “A lot of times it can feel like, ‘oh, it's too hot,’ or ‘it's too cold,’” says Dr. Sweeney. “I like to say there is no bad weather — just bad clothing.”

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