Some of my fondest childhood memories involve my father and me sharing our love of team sports. He drove me to games and he cheered me on. As one of the more athletic dads in my neighbourhood, he also made time to play catch with me or take me to the outdoor rink. When I had a child of my own, I knew that I was going to be the kind of dad who bonds with his kids through sports.
I never expected my son to actually pursue a sporting career, but I did want him to have the same positive experience and memories of sport growing up. I also wanted to share with him something that I really loved.
But as it turned out, my son just wasn’t into sports. This fact challenged me to reassess my vision of what a father-son relationship was supposed to look like.
Sports are just one way to be active
My son was smart, interesting, talkative, and playful, and we always enjoyed spending time together… but he wasn’t “sporty.”
My wife and I are big outdoors people. We took him camping from a young age, and also went for walks in the woods. He enjoyed these activities.
Before he was even old enough to play sports, I made sure we had plenty of time to run around, play at the park, and generally just be active.
Like a lot of dads, I signed my son up for T-ball when he was four. He seemed to understand what he was supposed to do, but he didn’t like it. He also never wanted to watch sports with me, or learn to throw and catch. He didn’t even want to kick a ball around.
Realizing that my son would never be “sporty” in the way that I understood the term wasn’t a sudden epiphany, but rather an understanding I developed over time. It did, however, prompt my wife and me to think about how to keep him healthy and active and develop lifelong healthy habits.
Finding new activities to enjoy
We made sure our son learned many basic skills, like skating and swimming, even if the lessons were a struggle.
We got a tagalong bicycle trailer and I took him on rides where he practiced pedaling and holding the handlebars. Once he learned to ride by himself, he and I took short bike trips together. We both enjoyed these outings.
We ensured activities like hiking and camping were positive experiences for him, taking up geocaching to provide a context for our walks in the woods.
Living in Ottawa, we had the world’s largest skating rink, so I took him skating frequently on the Rideau Canal. These trips always included hot chocolate and maple toffee on snow.
Related read: How to get your kids to love being active
The end result…
We must have done some things right.
We’ve hiked and camped everywhere we’ve lived or traveled, including throughout Ontario and Quebec, plus Newfoundland, the Maritimes, and the American Midwest.
After high school, our son had a summer job as a nature interpreter at a provincial park.
He’s in university now and still enjoys hiking and camping. He wants a career where he can be outdoors in nature for a good chunk of his at-work time. He also knows that a brisk walk is a great stress-reliever; in fact, he often calls us to chat while he’s out walking.
And I still get to share with him something that I really love—being active.
What I learned
In the end, I learned you don’t need to be a gifted athlete to enjoy an active lifestyle.
I also discovered that physical activity doesn’t have to be competitive, but it does need to be enjoyable.
Most importantly, I learned to understand and adapt to my child’s needs. Doing things your child loves is not difficult, but changing your approach to active parenting takes a deliberate effort.
6 responses to “Tips for getting active with your non-sporty child”
You sound like a great dad! I’m now 70, and I was the non-sporty son of a very athletic father. It did not go well. My pop always stressed “doing it right”… throwing a baseball or football, swimming, whatever. He never, ever stressed “fun,” and as a result, it wasn’t. I was always aware of coming up short in his eyes. I wouldn’t even play wiffle ball at family picnics because I knew I’d get a critique on the way home. Later, the only sports I played were those in which Dad had no experience – tennis, bowling, water polo, volleyball, badminton. I made sure I never told him when and where I’d be playing. Make sure your kids get the “fun” angle of physical activity before ever getting into form, be patient, and give lots of encouragement.
I am sharing this video that Sophie put together a couple of years ago. We continue to advocate for more emphasis on individualized active programs that use goals and personal bests rather than organized team sports to promote inclusion and a healthy long lasting love for active living. Though team sports provide an immense amount of benefits for some kids, for others it just isn’t a good fit and sadly, ends with kids saying they “hate sports.” https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=aHSoSW020VA
Great article, I can definitely relate since my 9 year old is not sporty at all. It’s nice to see how other parents cope with this kind of situation and I mostly appreciate you approach in changing your vision and adapting it to the needs and likes of your son. Thank you for sharing this story!
Good tips here. While we all adjust to our new pandemic ‘lifestyles’, it’s never been more important to get our kids outside and active.
This was an interesting read! Although I don’t have children of my own, I can take away a couple of ideas for myself with this (being a non-sporty person who wants to be active). I think it’s lovely that you adapted your approach instead of pushing your son into doing something he didn’t want to do.
Love this article! I don’t have children of my own and I was never into sports of any kind. Yes this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors and hiking and appreciate nature in all its glory. I found zO love to move to music and using a treadmill and a rowing machine. Great article Gerry!