Sports parents unite! Why loading everyone into the car on a Saturday morning for physical activities
really is worth it.
I was at a crossroads in my life, living in San Diego, working at a non-profit called San Diego Center for Children, knowing I needed my next steps in life to materialize. I wasn’t entirely happy with life at present, and I knew I needed to make some big changes. But, what exactly? It was 2am, I couldn’t sleep, and I was digging deep, sitting with the silence, waiting impatiently for a bigger purpose to make itself known.
And, it did. That night.
I needed to work directly with children. At the time, Spring 2007, my title was Development Coordinator at the SDCC and I worked primarily to secure in-kind donors, help plan and run fundraising events, and speak publicly to raise awareness about the work we did for SD community families. As more of a hobby, on days when my workload was light, I helped with the kids’ recreational therapy program. The Rec Therapist and I organized physical games for the resident children to play, and, quite honestly, this was the most interesting and fulfilling part of my job. My next steps began to reveal themselves to me that night as I thought about what really drives me. I believed then and still believe now in the powerful and healing nature of physicality, for adults and children alike. In the wee hours that morning, I sat researching higher ed programs related to children, physical activity, teaching, coaching, and wellness. That search culminated in the fall of 2007, when I began the Master’s of Arts program for Physical Education at Teachers College, Columbia University in NYC.
At first glance, sports can seem simple. Show up, play, learn, leave. But, in my experiences as a teacher/coach, they are much more than that. Personalities reveal themselves immediately when children engage in gross motor physical activities because the exercises require direct communication, teamwork, self-confidence, spatial awareness, understanding of rules and strategies, problem solving, quick thinking, and physical growth. I could go on. If a child is prone to giving up when something gets hard, we see that. If a child is prone to taking over and not working well with others, we see that. If a child includes and encourages peers and has a developing self-confidence, we see that. We, physical educators and coaches (and parent volunteers), teach children life skills inherent in game play in between tying 10,000 shoes.
So, why change out of your cozy pjs and make your coffee to-go on the weekend for your kids’ sports activities?
Grit. There is an athletic grit that, in my experience, can’t be learned anywhere but the playing field. While pushing ourselves beyond our preconceived physical limits, we come to know an inner power beyond our intellect. It is almost primal and animalistic because it is purely visceral. We connect to our bodies in a way that brings us inner strength and empowerment. These traits translate directly to self-confidence.
Respect. On the way to sports practices and classes, my husband and I remind our kids to listen to their coaches, follow directions, and do their best. Our kids know that we expect them to greet their coaches upon arrival and thank them when they leave. Sounds simple, but in my experience as a teacher and coach, I have observed some room for improvement and reinforcement with these fundamental social skills in our little ones. When we respect others, we respect ourselves and the activities in which we take part. This is a simple and important concept for children to learn in my opinion.
Coping. It is so interesting to observe the different ways children react to successes, failures, and disappointments during physical games. We, teachers and coaches, see everything from acceptance to aggression, from complaining to tears, from avoidance to perseverance, and pretty much everything else. These reactions present teaching opportunities about how to endure disappointments and enjoy successes gracefully. No human in the world always gets the results s/he wants all of the time, so this lesson is applicable during all stages of life.
Engagement. There is nothing like athletics to bring us into the here and now. We all are met with a plethora of distractions from the second we wake up in the morning, when our phones alert us that our first text message has arrived. When we are physically active and present, it gives our brains a focal point, a channel, to dismiss all other outside stimuli. This is a treat for our brains, since they don’t often get to work this way, to purposefully ignore distractions and say no to multi-tasking. When I exercise, I feel like my whole body, brain included, resets and takes a deep breath. It is therapeutic. And, we can’t ignore all of the new stressors and responsibilities that our children face with the rise of technology. It is wonderful to have access to computers, iPhones, and tablets, and also very intense. It makes me feel lucky to be able to share a tool with our little ones that may enable them to step away from the noise and recenter themselves.
Needless to say, I’m a believer in the benefits of physical activity. Are you? I’d love to hear your thoughts below! ~Luci Grause, Skip & Scoot owner