Before my time on Operation Transformation I could describe my family as being a fairly typical Irish family unit. Two adults working, two children in primary school and all of us with no more than a passing interest in any sporting activity. We watched others play, we supported professional teams but the weekends were more likely spent in shopping centers than on the playing field. Things are different five years on but without Operation Transformation, this change never would have happened, because one of the things I learned on the programme was that the benefits weren’t all about me, I had huge support.
I’ve written previously that the motivation to exercise is made immeasurably easier when it happens within a group and for many of us there is no better ready-made group than our family.
Why should we run with our children? The mental & physical benefits of youth sport participation are well known
- It reduces stress & anxiety
- It improves and builds confidence
- It boosts brain power
- Increases heart health
- Improves sleep, blood flow and memory
- Reduces obesity
- Builds strength & stamina
But most importantly, you should do it because it’s fun and it is fun for both parent and child. I’m on the record for believing the Saturday morning parkrun with the kids is my most enjoyable run of the week. There is no pressure on times, watches, placings or pace. Just get up, get out and run. Let the kids set the pace and distance, if they want to walk then let them walk, if they want to stop then let them stop, they’ll be more likely to return and try again if there is no pressure. There is no ideal age to start or suitable distance to aim for but ideally it needs to be an activity rather than a task and fun rather than a chore.
Our school has introduced what they call the ‘K a day’ – taken from the UK initiative of ‘The Daily Mile’ each class is encouraged to get out and walk, jog or run around the school grounds for 15minutes at any time the teacher decides is appropriate, regardless of the weather. There is no equipment or set up required and the children just get up and go in their uniform, no changing into tracksuits or gym gear. It is non-competitive and the teachers have found that children return to the classroom invigorated and ready to learn. The short period in the fresh air every day has seen the children’s fitness levels increase, it supports classroom learning rather than interrupting it and improves the confidence, concentration and behaviour. That’s just 15 minutes of activity. But it is regular activity and it is now a routine in the children’s day.
The ‘K-a-day’ is great but we can’t always expect our schools to take on another challenge that should really be a family responsibility. So how do you get todays children who are becoming more and more welded to television and computer games out in the fresh air? Letting them take ownership of the activity is a good start. ‘Will we jog or cycle to the park?’ ‘Will we play football or tennis today?’ ‘Will we bring the dog for a walk before or after dinner?’ This allows them to choose an activity of their liking, sometimes reward is the way to go – ‘Will we make lunch or get something in the market after parkrun tomorrow?’
Rewards don’t have to be calorie filled treats though. Many established races this summer will offer a family run on the same day – the opportunity emulate their parents in collecting medals and showing them off is a huge incentive for children. They see the numbers, medals and rewards you get when running, why not allow them to collect their own? This year’s Irish Runner 5 mile race has a family fun run on the same day, as does the Great Limerick Run and Rock & Roll series in the Phoenix Park. Children get to run with their parents and peers in a fun and friendly environment. Of course, there is junior parkrun too – with a course measuring 2k, junior parkrun offers children the opportunity to match their parents in clocking up their own weekly timed runs.
Running is good, but partaking in any activity is better than none. Roller skates, frisbee, hide & seek in the local forest are just a few things we can look at to introduce activity in our lives. A tennis racquet and ball makes a hitting, catching and throwing game event more fun. Whatever you choose, don’t underestimate the fact that your children will want to succeed at whatever they do and you should encourage that and congratulate them when they try. I regularly let my 12yr old lead me to the finish at our local parkrun, at least that’s what I tell myself!.