My Kid Stinks at Tennis

Written by Paul Wolf

And there's nothing wrong with that. Getting kids interested in exercise has everything to do with fostering fitness appreciation, and little to do with competition.

Your 14-year-old son has gotten crushed in three straight sets of tennis. You may want to discuss his nonexistent backhand, but what you should say is: "Did you get a good workout?"

When we focus too much on competition and too little on the value of health and fitness, we encourage young people to quit exercising just as they're getting started. 

Watch This Video about balancing time with children.

The issue here isn't self-esteem, but habits, says Dr. Wayne Osness, exercise physiologist at the University of Kansas.

Osness led a study that compared two groups of physical-education students. The first group was children (K-6) who received "fitness appreciation" instruction along with sports "performance skills." The second group was kids who were exposed only to performance skills.

Questionnaires given four years after the instruction showed the first group to be more knowledgeable, more committed to exercise and more enthusiastic about fitness in general.

In talking to your kids about the importance of exercise, Osness recommends you use simple language: "When you play basketball, you develop your coordination and make your heart and lungs grow stronger ..."

An older, more sophisticated child will catch onto the basic exercise jargon: "aerobics," "speed work," "progressive resistance," etc.

Watch this video of exercises you and your child can do anywhere.

To get your kids excited about exercise, Osness recommends you:

  • Educate yourself
    Don't rattle things off from the top of your head.

  • Exercise with your child
    Don't proclaim the benefits of exercise if you wouldn't be caught dead in sweat pants.

  • Appreciate competition
    But do so bearing in mind the motto, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."

  • Expose your kid to different sports
    Your son may stink at tennis, but if he's never exposed to running, he'll never know his legs are championship cross-country material.

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