Patty De Belen

Changing to an active lifestyle after childbirth, I discovered that sports can teach a lot of skills that can be applied to other aspects of life. As an adult, it was a way of re-learning skills or even discovering something that I didn’t know I could do. The learnings from doing sports are things that I want my child to embody as well.

My son, Justin, is now four years old—a very curious child who is also a ball of energy. Introducing him to sports at this age is ideal but he’s also sensitive in learning new because it might cause him to veer away from it permanently.

To avoid him from being scared of trying out sports, I consulted notable coaches in the Philippine triathlon industry who also specialize in training children: Coaches Patrick Joson and Vanessa Redgrave Agdon.

Their insights helped me in jumpstarting Justin’s sports training especially in today’s time where parents like me have to guide their children directly. Making Justin appreciate sports at a young age can teach him to develop healthy habits that can continue later as he grows up. Here are some pieces of advice that they provided so I can influence Justin to love sports as I do.  

Identify your child’s approach to addressing what drives him/her to do sports

This was advised by Coach Vanessa when I asked her what I should do the first thing to lay out my approach for Justin. She observes that some children are very competition-driven while others focus on the fun side of doing sports. For children to be enticed into starting, it’s ideal to identify what drives them.

“It’s also a way for them to cultivate independence as sports can teach them to learn to do things on their own,” Coach Patrick advises. Knowing your child’s approach will teach them to learn things without being coaxed by their parents.

Start something by making it fun

To quote an excerpt from the Little Prince: “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

This line from the book helps me to see the world through Justin’s eyes. That’s also the reason why both coaches agree to make any activity fun for them to start with.

“Treat this time as playtime and see what will blossom from it,” Coach Vanessa emphasizes. “Just because they see it in their parents doesn’t necessarily equate to them like those activities. That’s why it’s more important for children to see the fun side of doing things especially with their short attention span.”

Coach Patrick also highlights the importance of outdoor play. “The classic outdoor play is what children need especially at Justin’s age. It is a challenge especially during this time when children are not allowed yet to go out of the residence but even just playing tag outside your house is already a way to introduce sports. You can take it also as a way for you to bond with them as well.”

He also suggests for children to try as many sports as you can to guide them. “While it’s more convenient for parents to pass on the sports that they do to their children, let them try to do other sports as they might like those more than what you do. It’s not fun for them anymore when you force them to do something they don’t want to do.”

Identify who your child will most likely listen to

“More often than not, parents tend to hover too much,” Coach Patrick mentions from his observation of the parents of the children he trains. As parents, we want our kids to listen to us easily because we spend so much of our time trying to nurture them. In that light, not all children will instantly listen to their parents, especially when it’s about the expertise that parents are not masters of.

Coach Vanessa notices this from the children she trains. In her observation, some children listen to her as a coach during training rather than their parents. We, as parents, have to let the experts do what they are meant to do for our kids.

Coach and Justin

Coach Patrick suggests for children to have a coach—whether the parent to start with or hiring an actual coach. Just like in education, it’s similar to getting a tutor to guide your child. Justin might be young to have a concrete training program to start with, but I let him also train with my coach at least twice a week. From that experience, what I notice is that Justin enjoys the activities more since that he sees them as playtime rather than a chore mandated by me. 

Provide only positive feedback and a lot of encouragement

As adults, we can accept critique because of our vast experiences; children, with their innocence, haven’t harbored that trait yet. Providing positive feedback is the way for them to cultivate their behavioral patterns and embrace them in the long run.

Positive feedback also makes children acknowledge appropriate behavior. For children, they remember things more when they have a positive memory associated with their actions. That’s what I also noticed with Justin—he tends to repeat doing things when he gets acknowledged from those.

It’s also the same when introducing sports. Encouraging them is a way to entice them to do sports and love doing it for a long time. Coach Vanessa advised this as she notices children start to lose interest when they are not acknowledged or undergo extreme pressure. It’s even ideal to take a step back when your child does not want to do an activity anymore. Similar to adults, children can also experience burning out and sports can become a negative experience.

Coach Patrick even advised not to overthink. As sports for Justin’s age looks more like playtime than an actual training session, the priority for him is to make it fun. Providing positive feedback and a lot of encouragement will cement his perception that sports is a way for him to enjoy what it has to offer. Justin has the rest of his life to discover more complicated parts of sports such as discipline or following the rules down to a tee.

As much as I would aspire Justin to do the sports that I’m currently doing, it’s more important to let him discover the sports he would like to do and enjoy it on his own. Consulting Coaches Patrick and Vanessa helped me identify the ideal approach for Justin to start doing sports even at a young age. Sports can teach children to discover a lot of factors such as independence, patience, respect, and social skills—in a fun and less authoritative way.

About the Consultants:

Coach Patrick Joson is a Triathlon Coach Facilitator/Mentor, a Board Member of the Triathlon Association of the Philippines, and a member of The American Swimming Coaches Association. He was also the Editor-In-Chief for a pioneer sports magazine for 6 years. He now owns a company that creates sports tourism events and is a founder of several online sports communities. He received Presidential Recognition in 2016 for his efforts on Inclusive Mobility and Sports Tourism. To ask for details on his services, you can reach him here.

Coach Vanessa Redgrave Agdon is a Certified Ironman Coach and a consistent podium finisher in the age group category for triathlon. She has completed numerous Ironman Competitions across the globe while being a single mom to her child who is also now a competing triathlete. She is also a Fitness Coach and Group Exercise Instructor for Fitness First Philippines. For strength and conditioning training services for you and/or your child, you can reach Coach Vanessa here.

Patty De Belen
Patty De Belen
Patty is a Managing Director for a Public Utility Vehicle Corporation and a single mom to Justin, a very hyperactive little boy. She started her fitness journey trying to keep up with Justin and realized that having an active lifestyle does wonders to the mind, body, and soul.

She’s now an obstacle course racer, triathlete, and a Crossfit Instructor.
She writes about fitness and motherhood hoping to inspire and empower other moms to start their fitness journey and share it with their children.

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