Five ways to encourage teenagers to participate in sports

Looking to help your teen stay active? Carl Smith from Start Fitness shares his advice for encouraging your child to build a healthy relationship with sports and exercise to help them stay active into adulthood. 

Staying active is one of the best ways we can look after our health and wellbeing, but many of us struggle to do so. Inactivity is prevalent amongst all age groups but is especially so for teenagers. Research from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that four out of five school-going adolescents do not meet the daily one hour of physical activity recommendation.  

As we all know, staying active comes with numerous health benefits, from strengthening bones and muscles to improving cardiovascular fitness.

But for teenagers in particular, playing sport can be a great form of socialisation and a good way to make new friends outside of school. Plus, making sport a regular part of their weekly routine will give them good time management experience, an essential skill for both their academic life and the workplace. 

So how can you encourage your child to reap these benefits and help them build a healthy relationship with exercise? Take some inspiration from the five tips below. 

1) Help them find a sport they love 

Your teenager isn’t going to stick with a sport very long if they don’t enjoy doing it, so helping them find an activity they love is one of the most important things to do. Not only will this encourage them to keep active throughout their teen years and into adulthood, but will give them a fun hobby to enjoy and turn to when they need to de-stress. This can prove particularly valuable come exam season.

The best way to help them find an activity they enjoy is to motivate them to try out as many as possible. Keep an eye out for taster sessions at local sports clubs or the leisure centre, or encourage your teen to tag along with one of their friends taking part in a sporting event.

You can also help them narrow down their interests to find the best sport for them. For example, if they love music and high-energy workouts, competitive dancing could be a great option. Or if they love being in the water, swimming, diving, or another water sport like kayaking may be their ideal type of activity. 

2) Lead by example and get involved 

It isn’t just teenagers who aren’t meeting their daily exercise recommendations: one in four adults aren’t getting enough exercise according to the WHO. So why not join your teenager and get more active yourself?

Not only will this show your child that it’s important to keep up with sports and establish an exercise routine in adulthood, but you can even inspire your teenager and become their fitness role model. You can get the whole household involved with your fitness routine, too, such as by going for family hikes or making regular group visits to your local swimming pool for a dip. 

If you’re looking for new ways to spend time with your teen, you can even find a sport you can do just the two of you, like tennis, badminton, golf, pickleball or rowing. Try to choose an activity neither of you have experience in so you can learn together and turn your exercise routine into a bonding opportunity. 

3) Don’t pressure them 

When encouraging a child to keep active, it’s crucial that you help them build a healthy relationship with exercise.

Pressuring your teen to participate in a sport may feel like you’re disciplining them, which can in turn have an impact on their self-esteem and make the sport feel like a punishment rather than a fun activity. This may make them less active, which can have a knock-on impact in adulthood as research has found inactive children may be more likely to become inactive adults (NHS). 

However, there is often a fine line between motivating and pressuring, so finding the perfect balance can be a little tricky. Below are a few tips to help you strike the right tone when discussing sport and exercise with your teenager: 

  • Show an interest and ask how they are finding their current extra-curricular activities. 
  • Ask if they would like to be signed up for a particular sport or activity, rather than telling them they must choose one. 
  • Instead of forcing them to stick with a sport they don’t like, offer alternatives. For example, if they don’t enjoy playing a high-intensity sport like football, suggest they try something slightly lower impact, like doubles tennis. 
  • Provide positive enforcement and tell them they are doing a good job, and avoid criticising them for poor performance or lack of effort. 

4) Find out how they feel about sport

Some teenagers are less willing to participate in sport than others, and that’s completely normal. But it’s still a good idea to have a chat with your child and ask them how they feel about exercise, especially if they don’t seem particularly keen on getting active.

It could be the case that they simply haven’t found the right sport for them, which is something you can help them figure out. Or they may just not enjoy high-intensity or competitive sports and exercises, which is another thing you can help them with by looking into more low-impact activities. 

If you have a teenager who was once active but has seemed to have moved away from sport, it’s also a good idea to check in. While they may simply not have the passion for their former sport anymore, there are a number of other reasons teenagers give up sports, which you may be able to help them with.

For example, if they find that their workload has increased as they’ve gotten older and they don’t have the time, you could offer to reduce their weekly chores list. Or if they have had a falling out with someone on the team, you could suggest ways to resolve this, or find a different club for them to move to if they don’t feel comfortable with this solution.  

5) Make sure they have the right gear

No matter which sport your kid enjoys, getting them the right activewear and equipment is sure to help them keep up with it. Not only is choosing the best fitness clothing and footwear important for their comfort, but buying the right gear for their sport can really help them improve their performance and enjoyment of the sport.

For example, if they’re a competitive runner, the right pair of running shoes can make their run as smooth and stable as possible to help them reach a new personal best. Or, if they love playing baseball, a pitching machine designed specifically for baseball can help them improve their batting skills and train for different pitching styles.

Buying the right equipment can be important for their safety too, especially when it comes to accessories such as bicycle helmets and reflective wear. 

Help your child find a sport they can love for life

Encouraging your child to build a healthy relationship with exercise can benefit them not just in their teenage years, but throughout their adult life. With the tips above, you can encourage and motivate your child to find a sport they love and help them prioritise keeping active. 

Photo by Brent Ninaber