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Olympics motivate kids to get active

Pick up any newspaper and at least once a month there will be a story about the inactivity of our kids. We need to get them away from their screens, up and moving, active and engaged. We all agree but the real question is how.
lynn valley torch
Crowds line the streets of Lynn Valley in 2010 to watch the Olympic torch relay. Columnist Kathy Lynn says watching the Olympic Games exposes children to many sports and may inspire them to pursue new athletic activities.

Pick up any newspaper and at least once a month there will be a story about the inactivity of our kids.

We need to get them away from their screens, up and moving, active and engaged. We all agree but the real question is how.

How do we motivate them to participate in an active sport? How do they choose what sports interest them? What are the options? The upcoming Olympics are a great answer for all of these questions. Once the Games start there is an excitement in the air. Everyone is watching and discussing the games and the different sports.

I spoke to one of our very own Olympians, Karen Magnussen, one of the greatest figure skaters of the 1970s. She won five Canadian national titles, three World Championship medals, and the 1972 Olympic silver medal. In 1973 she won gold at the World Championships. I spoke with her about the upcoming Games. She agrees that when the Games start there will be an adrenalin rush that will affect all of us. The trick, according to Magnussen, is to acknowledge the excitement.

Different children are drawn to different sports. For some, it's like a magnet. They see a downhill race, the luge, figure skating or hockey and it's like a switch goes on in their heads. This is the sport for them.

According to Magnussen, one big advantage of the Olympics is that children get to see many sports and athletes in a condensed time frame. It's the perfect time for parents to encourage their children to consider what interests them. You really do that by listening and watching their reaction. They'll let you know what excites them.

Some kids will see the Olympics as a springboard to seeing themselves on a podium some day. For those kids, your role is to be supportive. Let them know you are there for them. If they are truly elite athlete material they will have the drive and ambition and be drawn to the particular sport. You will not have to push them, just support them.

But, most kids simply want to enjoy sport and that's the real goal of introducing them to a wide range of choices. It's not about being elite. As Magnussen says, "everything is about what you put into it."

I also asked her about safety. Her response was that learning how to do a sport properly is the defence against injury. Coaching in all sports is not just for the competitors; it's for all kids. When they learn how to skate (ski, run or luge etc.) properly, they will be safer.

"There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Knowing how to do it properly and how to fall safely will reduce the possibility of injury."

The Olympics may motivate your kids to get active. They're not working to make the 2018 team. They're working to become healthier people and to have fun.

It's also a chance to talk about summer sports. Once the topic of different sports is on the table, take a look at the summer activities and see what causes your child to sit up and take notice.

When I speak to groups of parents I hear parent concerns about children who are overweight and physically unfit. But, all too often, I hear about children who are just not willing to try something new, are unable to recover from mistakes or who give up too easily.

Developing skills in a group under the guidance of a coach helps them learn how to keep trying and grow and develop new skills. Each time they work to learn something and finally succeed makes the next time easier and it will translate into other areas of their life.

Our children need to learn how to work as team members. They will be team members in the workplace, in meetings, on volunteer boards or in their community. Sitting at home in front of the TV set or computer screen just doesn't do it. Participating as a team member in a sport they learn how to take turns, how to follow the rules, how to mentor and be mentored. They also learn how to assess their own strengths and abilities and how to partner with others who have complementary assets.

Enjoy the Olympics. Cheer on our Canadian athletes and listen to your kids and help them choose the sport that's right for them.

Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway?, But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home and Vive la Différence. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at