According to a study discussed in the BBC this morning, half of children aged 7 need more exercise

I genuinely believe it’s harder than ever for children to get access to exercise these days. 

Firstly there are parents. Before I get howls of protests from parents, yes I know what it’s like juggling the busy demands of a modern hectic lifestyle. Between work, school, after-school clubs, friends houses, tidying the house, signing permission slips left right and centre, trying to find time to do anything is always a challenge.

Then there’s the electronic gadgets. Televisions and computer games bombard children with lots of stimulation, and they’re adapting to this, by having shorter attention spans and demanding a more interactive experience for anything to hold and keep their interest. What else can compete with that? And they’re convenient, right into your living room; no wonder the easier option sometimes is to leave the children plonked in front of the screen.

Finance plays its part too. Hobbies and clubs are often expensive, and just by looking at prices on websites and leaflets it’s hard to justify the expense. Especially if you’ve tried a hobby you think is best for your child, only to find three weeks into it that they’re “bored” of it already. Better to just bring them back to the TV which is safe and familiar…

Some families I know go walking at weekends, a brilliant activity which is free. Some schools go to brilliant lengths to bring a range of sports to PE lessons and to arrange a variety of after-school clubs. (and as my previous blog post noted, schools could do so much more to make sports and exercise more accessible to young people, especially those from poorer backgrounds – see this post).

So I can appreciate it can be hard to find a hobby for your child to get involved with. So how can one go about it?

I believe children need to be exposed to a range of sports and activities. This can either be through TV, watching sporting activities and tournaments (the Olympics was brilliant for this, and the Commonwealth Games next year provides another opportunity) or, even better, seeing them in person, especially at local fates where local clubs usually put on some demonstrations. Usually a child will get fixated on something, and it can be an activity you’ve never even thought of.

Then you need to do some research, and find a range of local clubs nearby. Go and try a few taster classes (most clubs will be only too happy to arrange a lesson for free), ask what the coaches and instructors can offer. How are the lessons structured? Do they have stated aims? How are different children inspired to succeed? What value, quite simply, do you get for your money?

Finally, and this is the trickier one, maybe parents, you need to join in yourselves. This can be a very scary experience, especially if memories of PE lessons fill you with dread. However this is something well worth overcoming. If you do an activity with your child, you can be their inspiration. Children love trying to beat their parents. Love seeing that grown-ups struggle with new stuff too. Love showing their parents how you should do a new move (“No Dad, it’s like this. Copy me, and do it properly…”). 

I can say this from personal experience. I’m lucky enough to have 7 families in my club. Husbands and wives. Fathers and sons. Brothers and sisters. Dads and daughters. Mums and daughters. Such a brilliant mix.

The one thing they have in common? They’re all laughing and chatting, talking about the lessons they’ve had, enjoying the shared experience. They have something else to talk about, something that’s just for them. Some genuine interaction time, away from the stories of school and work. Working together on the moves they’ve learned in their respective classes, and watching excitedly the moves that one’s learned that the other one might not have done. And then at graduation, all being so proud of one another as they all see each other being presented with their new belts – as an aside, it really is moments like that that remind me why I do what I do.

Oh, and everyone’s getting that much-elusive exercise that is apparently so hard to come by these days. Doing it together as a family. The best kind of stimulation for a child.

– Michael.