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The Canadian Olympic Team made a conscious decision to fuel their athletes’ confidence for these Olympic games with their slogan “Own the Podium”. International controversy and the politics of athlete funding aside, the high expectations created and the amazing sense of pride and community that has evolved in Vancouver from hosting these games is incredibly contagious.
No matter where I go in Vancouver now, I am mobbed by a sea of people dressed in red and white. Never in my life have I seen so much clothing donning a Canada logo and vehicles and homes and stores alike flying Canadian flags. For a country that has struggled with identity and unity for centuries, it is an amazing sight. I have never felt more Canadian. Even the opening ceremonies were decidedly Canadian, with the capping moment for me being the poem read by Shane Koyczan towards the end of the evening.
And after only one weekend of competition, Canadian heroes, who are great role models for our kids, have emerged. The Men’s and Women’s Freestyle Mogul events alone has motivational stories—whether it is our first Gold Medalist, Alexandre Bilodeau’s story of inspiration from his older brother Frederic, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy; Jenn Heil, a reigning Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion, who graciously accepted Silver; or Kristi Richards who decided to give the audience a show with her final jump, demonstrating grace after her fall and last place finish, each athlete left us feeling proud. Victorious or not, Clara Hughes, Cindy Klassen, Charles Hamlin, Erik Guay, Sydney Crosby, Hayley Wickenheiser, and many more Canadian athletes are sure to have unforgettable moments, too. Regardless of whether we “Own the Podium”, we are inspired by the magical atmosphere that has overtaken our city.
Lastly, the tragic death of Georgian Luger, Nodar Kumaritashivili, cannot go without mention. The team unity that the Georgians showed during the Opening Ceremonies and the standing ovation they received from the spectators was the only moment that night which moved me to tears. Patriotism was washed away in favour of sportsmanship and international community—values we want our children to espouse.
The boys and I were at Granville Island yesterday and spotted Team Canada Hockey Coach, Mike Babcock. He was very accommodating to the attention he was receiving from the fans who recognized him, and even helped me to corral the boys for the photo. Other athletes spotted at restaurants or outside events by my friends include Team Canada Hockey Players, Chris Pronger and Martin Brodeur, and US Short Track Speed Skater J.R. Celski. I also met Kaillie Humphries, member of the Canadian women’s Bobsled team on the train ride to the Oval. As she spoke about how hard she trained for her event here over the past year (10 hours/day, 6 days/week), it made me realize just how much is at stake for some of these athletes. Seeing the athletes close up and hearing their stories is great for our kids too: they learn that the athletes are real people with real stories of hard work and lots of heart.
Also spotted: Chloe Dufour Lapointe (Canadian Freestyle Team) who came 5th place. As well, numerous Canadian athletes have been spotted each afternoon signing autographs just outside of the main Canada Post office in downtown Vancouver (Homer & W. Georgia Street). Have you spotted any athletes?
Do we blame TV time, diet or busy parents? The failing grade that Active Healthy Kids Canada gives Canadian children each year causes lots of soul searching.
Why aren’t our children more active?
We’re asking the wrong question; it’s like asking “Why aren’t our kids reading more books?” when they can’t read. Canadian children are less physically active because they are less physically literate than previous generations.
Physical literacy doesn’t refer to specific sports skills, rather it is general physical competence and confidence. Think agility, balance, coordination, strength, flexibility, and speed (fundamental movement skills), coupled with a desire to be active.
Just like linguistic literacy, physical literacy is best developed from six months to six years of age when the mind and body are building foundations.
A physically literate child has the necessary motor skills and confidence to play any sport they choose recreationally, and a far greater chance of finding one where they excel.
If a child is not physically literate, they are tied to the few sports they acquired sport-specific skills from when young. If they lose interest, or if this sport doesn’t suit their physical strengths, they often lack the versatility to adopt a new sport.
The best route to physical literacy? According to Canada’s Long-Term Athlete Development Plan, under sixes should spend most of their time at unstructured active (often outdoor) play. Varied movements and the capacity to hold children’s interest make active play the foundation of physical literacy. Go to the park, ride your bike, run in the sprinkler or play hide-and-seek outside. This play can be supplemented with well-structured programs that develop all fundamental movement skills (gymnastics and swimming are two good examples).
Help your child become physically literate by providing them with opportunities to acquire fundamental movement skills, solidify them through repetition and combine them through active play. Most importantly, make sure they are having fun.
Only when our children are given these tools, along with the knowledge that active play is fun, will we raise them to be active for life.
There are some pretty simple things parents can do at home to build their children’s physical literacy.
You can try a bit more structure by putting it all together into an obstacle course. Have your child help lay out the circuit or do it themselves. Unless it’s a matter of safety, don’t worry about showing your child the ‘right’ way to use sports’ equipment. A critical component of physical literacy is the ability to string movements together into different combinations. Building ‘circuits’ and creative use of equipment can jump start this process.
With your support, your child can gain a foundation of physical literacy that will allow them to enjoy a wide variety of sports (recreationally or competitively) for their entire lives. Canadian Sport for Life is a great resource for those interested in learning more.
Q. What should a parent do if their child shows no interest in sports? My 6-year-old daughter would rather read, draw or play. Do I risk turning her off of sports and activity if I ‘force her’ to do them?
A: Lots of children love to read, draw and play on their own, and those are valuable activities. Music, art and free play are important parts of a balanced childhood and you should continue to encourage these activities.
Your question suggests that you are concerned whether or not you will create a negative experience for her by insisting she participates.
There is no great risk in introducing your daughter to a particular sport or activity, but you should keep a few things in mind:
For more tips, check out Active for Life.
We recently featured a study that identified the 5 top reasons kids play sports. As you might have guessed, ‘because it’s FUN’ is at the top of the list while ‘doing something I am good at’ is a close second.
We’ve compiled a list of DO’S and DON’TS for parents who want to help their child enjoy sports and learn great skills.
1. Do your homework.
Make sure the activity your child is interested in is safe. Meet the coaches and visit the play area. Familiarize yourself with the equipment and rules if you don’t already know them. Help your child prepare and set realistic expectations for their participation.
2. Don’t bribe your child to play.
Participation and skill development will be the reward for a child who is having fun in a supportive environment.
3. Let the coaches do their job.
If you’ve done your homework, you can rely on them to assess your child’s skill development and they’ll let you know when your child is ready to advance.
4. Don’t force your child to play a particular sport.
Just because soccer is close and convenient does not mean your child will enjoy it. Let her find a sport that she enjoys and excels at. And make sure she samples a wide variety of activities. It can take time before a child realizes they like a particular sport.
5. Behave yourself.
Don’t curse and yell. Don’t argue with coaches, referees or other parents. Playing sports is an opportunity for your child to experience fair play. It’s a chance for them to learn humility in victory and grace in defeat. And while it’s fine to cheer for your child, it’s better to support all the kids who are out there, having fun.
6. Don’t fixate on a single sport.
Science has proven that children need to develop as all-round athletes before they specialize in one sport. By participating in a variety of sports kids develop many movement skills, avoid injuries from over use and won’t get bored or burned out.
7. Talk to your child.
Learn about their participation and their enjoyment, show your interest and let them know you want them to have fun.
8. Don’t compare your child to others.
Let him enjoy participating without having to worry about others. Not all children will develop at the same time, so skill levels are often different. And not all children will enjoy the same sports. If they aren’t having fun, let them try something else.
9. Get active yourself.
Be a role model for your children, because studies show that active parents have active kids. Nearly 70 percent of children of parents who play sports also play sports, according to a recent Statistics Canada report.
10. Don’t rush things.
As long as they have the opportunity, kids will learn movement and sport skills when they—and their bodies—are ready. Until about age 5, kids should be learning basic motor skills, the FUNdamentals. After age 6 they can sign up for organized sports programs, but make sure there is an emphasis on skill development, not competition.
11. Don’t fixate on results.
Kids can and will be competitive, but they aren’t concerned about who wins or loses. Children play sports because they want to have fun, because they learn and master new skills and because they get to spend time with their friends.
Watching him surge powerfully through the water in the 100-metre freestyle, you might imagine Brent Hayden has always been an athlete. The truth is that as a child he struggled in just about every sport.
This Canadian Olympian is another great example of why kids need to be exposed to a variety of sports when they are small, and why parents need to keep an open mind when it comes to recognizing where their kids’ talents might be.
In a recent interview with Active for Life, Brent talked about his early love of swimming, his struggles in team sports and his inspiration to swim at the Olympics.
Q: What different sports did you play as a child?
I started playing soccer and baseball around age five, and later I played on the basketball team at my elementary school. I also played water polo for about three or four years from about age 12 to age 16. Around the same time I did karate for about five years and earned my first-degree black belt.
The truth is that I was awful at just about every sport I did, except for the water sports and karate. I was terrible at every sport outside of the pool.
When I briefly played basketball in grade seven, I only scored one basket all season. And it was an exhibition game against our own girls’ team. I mostly joined basketball because I was trying to get into the popular crowd at school, but in the end my lack of skills didn’t help me.
Q: What kept you in swimming?
I just loved to swim. I actually failed swimming lessons the first couple of times, but eventually I just found my place there.
For me, there was something about it being an individual sport. People weren’t relying on me getting the ball up the field or anything. I could just focus on my lane, and I think that’s what kept me in swimming.
Q: Do you have any memorable childhood experiences in sport?
I remember during my first or second year with the Mission Marlins Swim Club, a coach gave me one of his medals to take home for a couple of weeks. I was probably only five or six years old.
It was really special for me because I hadn’t won a race or a medal yet. But it kind of felt like it was my medal. It sort of lit a fire under me. It made me want to go out and win one of my own.
Q: Do you remember when you first began to think about the Olympics?
The first time I ever thought about the Olympics was probably grade three. The teacher was getting kids to stand up in class and say what they wanted to be when they grew up.
I stood up and said, “I want to swim in the Olympics, and I want to be a robot maker.” I think I had just recently watched the movie Short Circuit or something, and I wanted my own Johnny Five!
Q: Of your swimming achievements, which one stands out most for you?
I guess it’s pretty simple just to say that winning the gold medal at the 2007 World Championships was the best one, but it really was. It was fulfilling a promise I made to my grandfather.
Just before I left to go to Australia for the World Championships, I got the call that my grandfather was dying. I went to see him, and I sat with him as he was going in and out consciousness.
I said, ‘Grandpa, I am going to Australia tomorrow, and I am going to win you a medal.’
He passed away five days later. So winning a gold medal for me was not just about winning a gold medal—it was about fulfilling the most difficult promise that I’ll ever make to anyone in my life.
Q: Do you have any advice for children who might dream of going to the Olympics?
Just enjoy every moment and never stop having fun. I always try to have fun with my sport because my best performances are when I’m enjoying it. I actually struggle when I’m not having fun.
Q: Do you have any advice for parents looking to get their kids involved in sports?
Just open the doors for them. Just get them out there and get them to experience different sports. But at the same time, don’t pressure them into any one sport. If they like it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t. Let them find what’s right for them.
Have you been watching the London Olympics with your kids?
If so we’d love you to share your experiences with us. Are your children inspired, impressed or indifferent? What are their favourite events? Do the Games spur them on to try harder or try something new? Did they have any reactions that surprised you?
The Olympics provide a great opportunity for you to connect with your kids on topics like doing something you love and following your passion, rewards vs. self-satisfaction, goal planning and role models.
Here are some potential conversation starters:
Next, for some real-life Olympic fun try setting up your own mini-Olympics in your backyard or the local park. Use softballs for the shot-put. Get some ribbon from a dollar store to use as a finish line for foot races. Use playground equipment for an obstacle course. Make it as big or as small as you like; either a family or neighbourhood event.
We’re not really a ‘watch sports on television’ kind of family, but now that the kids are old enough to appreciate the events and the achievement of the Olympics we were looking forward to watching the London Games.
To build some excitement, I thought I would show our 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son the Relentless video with Canadian Olympic athletes training hard for the London Games.
They both seemed to like it, especially our little guy who loved seeing the divers somersaulting in the air before hitting the water. Our daughter thought it was ‘cool’ because it showed her some of the Olympic events.
It was briefly interesting to me that they each seemed to take away different things from the video. Then we forgot all about it, or so I thought, until a few days later when we were at my parents’ house for a Sunday visit.
After playing outside for a while and running all around the yard, our daughter showed me a list of events she had just completed in her own mini-Olympics game including the medal she had awarded herself for each category.
The girl who has been known to describe herself as ‘not liking sports,’ told me that she had used everything in our sports bag: t-ball, soccer ball, football, and a Frisbee; plus the neighbours’ pond for ‘fishing for leaves’; she substituted her arm for a golf club; and counted the previous day’s swim at a friends’ house as the swimming event.
I love that she did this because she had a blast and was so happy with herself. But it also showed me that she’s internalized the idea that physical activity is fun, to the extent that she’s incorporated it into her imaginative play without any interference or coaxing from us.
It’s a bit like how she introduced writing and reading into her playtime once she had those skills under her belt. And it reminds me of the one thing that stuck in my head from those in-class driving lessons I took years ago: the idea of conscious incompetence vs. unconscious competence. She’s gone from having an acute awareness of her lack of sports skills to being physically active for fun without thinking about it. Pretty cool!
However, I don’t think that this means that our kids have visions of standing on the podium in real life.
The next day when I asked them if they want to be Olympic athletes when they grow up, I got the following responses:
Daughter: ‘No, I want to be a librarian because it’s nice and quiet.’
Son: ‘Yes, I mean no, I want to be a writer because it’s nice and quiet and nobody comes in.’
So I do believe we have turned another corner in our sporty journey, but the kids are staying true to their bookworm roots. And who says a writer and librarian can’t throw around a football or play a round of ‘arm golf’ while discussing the latest literary news?
Sara Smeaton is a self-proclaimed non-sporty mom to her 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son. While working in advertising, as an interactive project manager, she avoided all company bowling outings and baseball games. Since having her kids, Sara continues to work as a freelancer and consultant; she is enjoying this new adventure writing for Active for Life.
Our latest TV ad features NHL superstar and dad Vincent Lecavalier playing ‘tightrope walking’ with his daughter Victoria and some of her friends. The ad highlights the fact that it’s easy, fun and critical for parents to play with their kids in a way so they learn fundamental physical skills.
As simple as the ad is, it actually challenges common beliefs on raising active and successful kids.
There are three common myths that we want to debunk:
Myth 1: Kids will learn all the skills they need on their own
Kids play. That’s what they do. But playing is more than just fun; play is critical to your kid’s entire development.
Play is so important that the United Nations has recognized play as a fundamental right of children. The UN statement is in recognition of the research that shows kids need play to grow physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally.
But parents are not necessarily aware that kids need to play a variety of games to develop the physical literacy skills they need to achieve their full potential.
It’s great to spend time playing games with your children. As you play with them, why not play fun games that will also help your child learn fundamental skills that will help them in all aspects of life?
Myth 2: Teachers and coaches will teach my kids the skills they need to know
So that we can deliver to you what you need, we’re always talking with parents like you. Parents have told us that helping their kids succeed is important. Along the way, they feel that their main responsibility is to make sure their kids succeed academically. It’s not that parents don’t understand the importance of physical activity, but they assume that coaches and teachers will teach their kids the physical skills they need.
In reality, parents are and remain their kid’s first teachers, and this applies to physical skills as much as academic skills. And you can’t start too early. From birth to age 6, children need to develop the ABCs of movement—agility, balance, coordination, speed—by playing a diversity of fun games every day.
Realize that you are your child’s first teacher of all skills, especially the physical skills. By teaching, we mean exposing your child to many fun games. Don’t be afraid if you are not sporty yourself. It’s not about turning your kid into an Olympian; it’s about teaching good skills and active habits early in life. Get to know the fundamental skills for your kid’s age and just play!
Myth 3: It’s for jocks only, my kid is not an athlete
In our last editorial we stated that there are no natural-born athletes. This generated many comments. It has raised the old nature versus nurture debate, but there’s not much to argue in view of the new research. There is simply a lot of science that now demonstrates that our brain is not static, and that what we do actually changes the structure of our brain.
In other words, the brain we are born with will adapt and evolve according to what we do and the skills we practice. Two video clips, one from Daniel Coyle author of The Talent Code and one from Matthew Syed who wrote Bounce: How Champions Are Made present simple summaries of the research.
Based on the science, our contributor Sara Smeaton, who calls herself a “non-sporty mom,” told me that she has changed her entire outlook on what could be possible for her kids. ‘I always thought that my kids would never be athletic. I was resigned to the fact that they would be un-athletic like my husband and I,’ she said.
Don’t fall into the old clichés of sporty versus non-sporty or athletic versus non-athletic. Instead, look at physical literacy as a way to help your children develop as well-rounded people. In the end, our body is our window to the world. Whether your children become artists, business moguls or professional athletes, their bodies will be their main tools for expressing themselves and for relating to the world around them.
The winning formula
The formula is simple: Play with your children, and play fun games that will help them to develop fundamental movement skills. With new skills, your children’s confidence will improve. With skills and confidence, their level of enjoyment will grow. In the end, having more fun in activity will mean your kids might become active for life!
Richard Monette is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Active for Life. He’s a ‘renaissance man’ of the quest for achievement and fulfillment. His professional activities span the disciplines of business, sport psychology and education. He is part of the B2ten leadership team and leads the Active for Life initiative. Richard is married and the the proud ‘papa’ of a 9 year-old boy and an 11 year-old girl.
Try singing this to the tune of 12 Days of Christmas.
On the first day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
went outside to play in the snow.
Run up a hill and toboggan down. Go snowshoeing. Try skiing, both cross-country and downhill. Have a snowball fight. Don’t let the fresh, crisp air keep you inside.
On the second day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
built an obstacle course in our house.
Create a tunnel out of some cushions. Set up a tightrope to walk. If you’ve got a mini trampoline, include it in your course.
On the third day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
went skating at the local ice rink.
Most community centres have cheap rentals if you don’t have your own skates. Make sure to wear your helmets (adults, too).
On the fourth day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
had a dance off to crazy music.
Turn up the volume and get creative.
On the fifth day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
went swimming at the community pool.
Many aquatic centres often include wave pools, water slides and great shallow pools for toddlers and younger children learning to swim. Plus: hot tubs.
On the sixth day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
played hopscotch in our kitchen.
Use masking tape to create a range of hopscotch grids. Alternate the legs you hop on.
On the seventh day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
learned to rock climb at the gym.
Rock climbing is a great activity that can be enjoyed by everyone in the family. Get some practice now so you can climb outside next summer.
On the eighth day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
played ‘Simon/Simona’ says.
Use basic calisthenics like jumping jacks for an active and bouncy game.
On the ninth day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
visited a bowling alley.
You get to wear snazzy shoes and practice some throwing and aiming skills.
On the tenth day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
played basketball and soccer inside.
With a novelty hoop that fits over a door and a Nerf ball, a game of knee basketball can be very invigorating. Or try having soccer shootouts with a beach ball or Nerf ball in the basement. Make sure to put away any breakables before you start your game.
On the eleventh day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
went to the local gymnastics club.
Quite a few clubs will have drop-in sessions where your kids can see what it’s like to use the same equipment elite athletes use to win medals.
On the twelfth day of the winter holiday break, my family and me
played table tennis for the first time.
Ping pong is family friendly and helps develop hand-eye coordination. If you don’t have an official table (and there isn’t one coming as a gift), you can substitute a kitchen or coffee table.
Blaine Kyllo has written for a variety of print and online publications including CBC.ca, the Globe & Mail, the Georgia Straight and Vancouver Magazine. Also an editor, producer and the father of two young children, he lives in North Vancouver.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if your kids are getting enough physical activity. So we say put the ball in their court with a printable activity log that makes it easy for them to keep track. If your kids are very little, you can help them.
The suggested activities in the left column of the chart can be done in any combination and any length of time to get your children to the total of 60 to 90 minutes a day. Blank rows allow you to fill in your own activities. (Need more ideas? Visit our Activities section).
Whenever your children are active, have them record their times in the appropriate row and column. At the end of the day and again at the end of the week, add up the totals to see how they are doing (they will be flexing their math muscles as well!).
Challenge your children to increase the variety of activities and time spent being active each week. And make sure you celebrate achievements with them.
Idea: Keep the current week’s log visible in a communal space such as the fridge, and archive weekly logs in a binder so your children can keep track of their progress!
Download the activity log and get started today.