family-playing-soccerTeaching Your Kids the ABC’s of Sports

A month or so ago, I was quoted in an article by Kelly Wallace for CNN. The topic was about sports and kids and the fine line between “encouragement” and “pushing.” After the article came out, I was contacted by John O’Sullivan, the author of Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids. John is a former collegiate and professional soccer player, and has spent the past two decades as a coach at the youth, high school, and college level. He oferred to write as guest post about physical literacy or what he calls the ABC’s of sports. Thank you John for sending this piece! We hope you enjoy it as much as we do! O’Sullivan speaks nationwide to coaches, parents, and young athletes about developing athletic excellence and leadership within positive sporting environments. He resides in Bend, Oregon with his family. To learn more about physical literacy or raising young athletes, visit John at  changingthegameproject.com.

“One of my boys is a great athlete, and loves every sport we sign him up for,” my friend Anne recently told me when speaking about her 5 year old twins. “But my other boy is just not that coordinated. He is just not an athlete, so we don’t sign him up.” Does this sound familiar? Have you seen this example play out with your own children, or those of friends? Have you seen situations where one child really takes to sports and picks them up quickly, while another shies away from athletics because they are a struggle? If so, you are certainly not alone.Unfortunately, many parents choose the path of my friend Anne above, assuming that a child’s ability to run, jump, skip, kick and throw is innate. Many parents think that kids either got it or they don’t, and if they don’t, then they should not put them in any athletic activities lest they lose confidence. Yet sport skills are not innate! The ABCs of sports – agility, balance and coordination – are learned. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach them to our kids.

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The ABCs of movement are known in sports science as physical literacy, which refers to the acquisition of the fundamental movement skills and sports skills that need to be learned as a child. Once learned, children will feel good about participation in physical activities. Kids who learn their ABCs possess the ability to move confidently and appropriately in their chosen sport or activity. Science shows that when children become more competent, they participate more vigorously, play for longer durations, and perform better. Please note the emphasis on learned, as these skills do not come as easily for some as they do for others. They must be taught. This is an important point and should not be overlooked. Think of another type of literacy, for example reading. What would you do if your first grader was struggling with reading? You would get extra help, spend more time with her, and teach her how to read, for you know that reading is an essential life skill. When it comes to kids and sports, though, many parents say “my kid is not athletic” and allow their child to quit before she even gets started. I believe physical literacy is as essential as reading if one wants to live a fulfilling, balanced, and healthy life. Science is clear that active adults are healthier and happier than inactive ones. If we want our kids to be active throughout their lives, we cannot let them quit sports at a young age. We should not be writing off six-year-olds as “un-athletic” and “no good at sports.” We need to teach them their ABCs. As a parent of a young child, it is imperative that you put your kids in an environment that teaches the movements and skills of physical literacy. This does not mean only organized sports programs. This can be backyard play, running and jumping at the playground, swimming or sledding with the family, or riding your bikes. You are at the forefront in promoting physical literacy. Some kids figure these movements and skills out on their own. Others do not and must be taught and encouraged to learn in a one on one environment, and not a group sporting one. Remember my friend Anne above? No one had ever told her it was her job to teach these fundamental movement skills to her son. I urged her to enroll her him in sports again and to teach him just as she would teach him to read. He needed to learn his ABCs! A year later, he has found a sport he loves, and is enjoying himself immensely. He was always an athlete; he just needed some time to show it.Whatever you do, remember that you are building a foundation for your child that needs to last a lifetime. An essential part of a structurally sound foundation is being active. By helping your child learn the ABCs of physical movement, you will make her more inclined to participate in sports, and far more likely to remain active well into adulthood. Don’t shortchange her because the first time she signed up for soccer she could not keep up. Teach her to run, to jump, to kick, and help her build an athletic foundation that lasts and lasts.

John O’Sullivan is the author of the bestselling book  Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids. He is a former collegiate and professional soccer player, and has spent the past two decades as a coach at the youth, high school, and college level. O’Sullivan speaks nationwide to coaches, parents, and young athletes about developing athletic excellence and leadership within positive sporting environments. If you would like to download a FREE chapter of John’s book, on the topic of “Confidence,” please visit changingthegameproject.com.