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Barbara Burke

Health Options

By Joannie Dobbs & Alan Titchenal

Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Kids need motivation
to remain active

With the holidays and the rainy season just around the corner, children of all ages will likely be spending more time at home. In place of typical outdoor play, the main exercise may change to using the TV remote control, moving the joystick on video games, and sliding around a computer mouse to surf the World Wide Web. This inactivity goes along with holiday treats in making weight gain in children more common than ever
The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports warns that we are in the middle of an epidemic of physical inactivity among our nation's youth. The teaching of physical education in schools is all but gone. Anticipating great increases in health care costs as many of today's children become sedentary, sick adults, the Council claims, "inactivity and poor diet cause more deaths annually in our nation than alcohol, microbial agents, sexual behavior, illicit use of drugs and firearms combined."
If you think that becoming sedentary can't happen to your child, you may be wrong. Even if your child is involved in youth soccer and you wear the badge of "soccer mom" or "soccer dad," your encouragement and support may not be enough to prevent your child from becoming a sedentary adult.
Parents and coaches would like to think that they are laying the foundation to motivate kids to establish an active lifestyle that carries into adult years. However, according to Dr. Maureen Weiss at the University of Virginia, research on what motivates kids to become active and stay active has identified three major factors.
First of all, when children feel that they are becoming competent in their physical activities they tend to stay motivated and involved. Younger children gain this sense of competence from the satisfaction of learning and mastering new skills. As children get older and progress into their teen years, they tend to focus more on comparison with their peers and feedback from coaches, teachers, parents and friends.
To help children feel a sense of growing competence, it is important to match the level of challenge with the skills of the child. If skill challenges are too easy, then children can get bored. If they are too hard, the child may become overly frustrated and discouraged. It is better to set goals that allow individual children to gain a sense self-improvement than to set up arbitrary performance goals that may be impossible for some kids.
A second major motivator is finding social acceptance and companionship with friends, parents, teachers and coaches. This motivator leads directly to the third -- having fun!
The attitudes of teachers, coaches and parents have a major impact on these motivators. This is a great setting for children to learn that making mistakes can be an essential component of mastering a new skill. It is more motivating to provide encouragement and to praise success than to curse errors.
Although competition can be a great motivator, everyone can't win. If winning is a child's only motivator for physical activity, they are unlikely to stay active in their adult years.
Satisfaction, social acceptance, and fun seem to set a foundation for children to stay active into their adult years. Parents and coaches should be careful to include these three elements in the sports that they promote and supervise.
Try the same things to motivate yourself to stay active.

Health Events

Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a food and nutrition consultant
and owner of Exploring New Concepts, a nutritional consulting firm.
She is also responsible for the nutritional analyses
indicated by an asterisk in this section.

Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a sports nutritionist in the
Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Science,
University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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