Thursday, February 19, 2009

Waxing lyrical about sports

Kenneth and I are strong believers in getting our kids to be physically active, for long-term health benefits. As described in an earlier post, I mentioned how our kids learned swimming and then progressed to taekwondo. They've since both stopped their taekwondo lessons, Lesley-Anne because she has attained her junior black belt and Andre because of his intensive badminton schedule.

Andre's natural affinity with sports is something I admire because I have two left feet. Unfortunately, Lesely-Anne has inherited my klutz genes. Both of us wear bruises like battle scars because we're constantly tripping over our own feet, stubbing our toes, whacking our elbows into walls and God knows what else. Ballet has not changed this for Lesley-Anne. Funny how grace and clumsiness can go hand in hand.

The contrast is most glaring when Lesley-Anne and Andre do the same physical activity. When we both started family badminton sessions, Andre picked up the sport much quicker, despite being so tiny then that the racket looked longer than him. Kenneth brought both of them for a run and he found it impossible to manage them together because Lesley-Anne was lagging behind while Andre was off like a rocket way ahead. We still encourage Lesley-Anne to go for a run regularly because that's the only exercise she gets these days but it's a real effort for her.

When I made both of them learn to ride a bike, Lesley-Anne's progress was slow and wobbly and even though she can do it now, she's still not entirely in control of the bike when she rides. Andre took just one session of 45 minutes and never looked back, maneouvering sharp turns and corners confidently like a pro. He loves it so much that he often takes the bike downstairs for a spin on afternoons that he doesn't have badminton training. I'm glad he has an outlet to release all his excess energy and I do find that he's more refreshed to focus on work after those sessions.

This finding is borne out in a recent Straits Times segment on how to help your kids through school. It listed 8 things parents can do but I will just highlight one. It says: "Get them involved in sports. Research shows that being physically active helps kids do better in their studies."

I don't really like that headline as it seems to imply that once again, studies are all that matter and sports is just another way of helping the kids get better at it. If parents think enrolling their children in sports will immediately raise their grades, then I think they will be disappointed. Much like parents who think starting their kids on music lessons is an instant formula for making them better at maths.

What the article is saying is that physical activity develops the part of our brain that helps us pay attention and be mentally alert, hence contributing to better academic scores (which is consistently higher across different age groups in fit kids than sedentary kids). It cites studies which show that young atheletes' school performance improves during the sporting season and drops during off-season. So if you're thinking of stopping your kids from participating in sports CCAs so they can focus on their studies, do reconsider, your plan may actually backfire.

I believe that sports, like music, should be encouraged for their intrinsic benefits, otherwise the pleasure you derive from such activities is lost. But if academic achievements improve as a result, that's such a great bonus, don't you think?


Jo said...

My husband will agree with the correlation between sports and studies. After a few years of swimming competitively for his club & school, he decided to stop in upper secondary to focus more on his studies. Ironically his grades didn't improve and in fact he wasn't doing as well as before !

His take on this was that when he was training daily he only had that limited amount of time to manage his school work so he made the most of it and was very focused. After stopping he suddenly had a lot more time on his hands but he did not use it constructively. His solution ? He took up taekwondo instead ! (ha ha)

I think (secretly) he harbours hopes of one of our girls following in his footsteps but I don't see that happening in the near future (or ever?). DD no. 1 being her sensitive self has steadfastly refused to consider any training whatsoever - her one and only session involved a "shouting" coach, lots of tears thereafter and that was that. She would rather curl up with a good book than sweat it out in the sun !

My husband being the ever optimistic person thinks otherwise and says that he will wait until they are ready. Until then, he said, just learn your strokes & swim for fun !

monlim said...

Jo: If your daughter is not passionate about sports, then there's no point to force, although I would still nudge her to do some physical activity. She sounds like L-A, if we don't push, she's unlikely to initiate them since she also prefers indoor activities. Swimming for fun is fine and great! Try stuff like riding a bike and roller-blading, these activities are fun and non-intimidating.

If you want to consider sports coaching, do ask around for "nice" coaches - sensitive kids cannot take the screaming and insult-hurling type. That can truly kill the interest and put them off for a long (very looooooong) time. There are some very gentle swimming coaches and I'm sure for other sports as well. Andre's school badminton coach is so nice and motherly, even when she shouts, it's in a playful, teasing manner so all the kids love her.

bACk in GERMANY said...

Now I'm even more convinced to sign Bryan up for soccer.

Hubby said in jest a couple weeks ago... let's enrich them, with body, soul and mind.
So since we've started on Chinese lesson which is for the mind, he said we should look for music (soul) and sports (body) for our kids.

monlim said...

Cindy: Good to have you back! Soccer sounds like a good idea, Andre loved it when he joined a soccer clinic. If you can find a group to join, that's great.

As for music, if you want the name of Andre's piano teacher, let me know. He's great with kids, esp boys!

Alcovelet said...

I love the sports angle for kids - they're so full of energy, it'd be great to just have them run it all out so they can wade into bed and their ights go out - my dream anyway. Unfortunately, we ALL have left feet, including RK. I'll be happy if he can be safe in the water and have some fun while he's at it.

Cindy - you're serious? I'm thinking about it too! My friend was telling me about this place ...

Anonymous said...

Yes I have personal experience on this. I scored best academically when I was physically challenged. In fact it took lesser effort to study. Much to the disbelief of my teachers who did not support my ECA as I completely skipped classes for a good number of months to train for competition, I was still top 5 in my class. Of course I am not suggesting that children should skip classes like I did, but I agree that exercise helps me to stay focus. Having said this, it may not apply to some who may feel tired after exercising and want to sleep. For me, my adrenalin goes up further after exercising and time management is very important. Which is what Monica is alluding to that exercising is not a magic pill to academic excellence but it may help if it strikes the right chord in a person and that becomes a bonus. The starting point should still be going out to enjoy the physical activity.

Monica..I have not had time to check out the book yet but most likely I will read through it for strategies to handle HSC based on your recommendation. :)


monlim said...

QX: It's great to hear a personal anecdote on this! Very encouraging. I find that Andre is more alert and energised after an exercise session than ironically, after he takes a nap. If he takes a nap, he ends up more sluggish. We find that it's more productive to let him exercise in the afternoon, then if he's tired by the evening, he can just go to bed slightly earlier.

bACk in GERMANY said...

Ad, what place? A soccer place?
I thought soccer is good for my son... who's always so competitive. Thus it's impt for him to learn some team spirit and sportsmanship. Preferably those with competitions and they need to train very hard sort... Got to let him know what's "no pain no gain"!

eunice said...

My husband was an athlete (running, squash, rugby, boxing...). Even after his accident it didn't stop him and he's taken up golf and muay Thai. He totally believes in sports helping mould a child. Sean is physically very much like TH but he's lazy. I am the one that has pushed him to do swimming, muay Thai and soccer (for a team sport). I agree with Monica about sports making them more alert.

Anonymous said...

Oh Monica, I forgot to share part 2of the story. Training along with me for the competition were a few other classmates. It ended up they did not do very well in the exams and I was the only exception so they started to ostracise me.

So the net message is it is still dependent on what makes an individual tick and time management. We all did exactly the same things during school hours, ie skipped classes and did training, but most likely we did different things when at home. The end result was however bitter for them. So if you asked me if it worked for all, based on this, I would say not.

I vaguely recalled they were tired after training and had to rest so not everyone felt alert after exercising. Or the other suspicion I had was they might be high in adrenalin after the training but instead of turning to books, they went to do something else so that was a time management and priorities issue.

Checked out Popular on HSC, was told this book was no longer available since a while ago??


monlim said...

Thanks QX for sharing! Good reminder that sports is not a magic ticket to better grades, it's still up to the individual and yes, always important to strike a good balance.

For the HSC book, I got it at Borders. Popular is not a good place to look for such books, IMO cos they have such a limited range.

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