Role Modeling When You Are Not Athletic

How non-athlete parents can encourage kids to enjoy being active

Girl and mother playing tennis
Think this could never be you? Don't sell yourself short!. Digital Vision

You've seen it on this site and many other places: One of the best ways to raise active kids is to be active yourself. That's easy enough if you're naturally inclined to sports and fitness. But if you're not athletic? Trying to act as though you are can be challenging (and ineffective; kids know insincerity when they see it).

So what can you do? The first step is inching slowly out of your comfort zone—you know, that comfy spot on the couch where you curl up with a great book.

You don't have to be someone you're not, but you can expand your personal definition of "sports." Almost anything that gets you moving is healthy for your body, and can be motivating for your kids to see. That could mean simply taking a walk or signing up for a dance class (if you're shy, do an exercise video instead). Just try at first. No big commitment required!

Take a cue from exercise physiologist Bob Hopper, who wrote a book called Stick with Exercise for a Lifetime. He encourages readers to really think about what activities sound fun. There's a long list to choose from in the book, or you can see my thoughts on lifetime sports. Don't worry about whether the activities that appeal to you seem like they'll help you lose weight or gain muscle. If you like them, you'll keep doing them, and the fitness will follow.

Inspiration for Parents Who Are Not Athletic

If you're ready to try something new, but just need a little nudge to get started, you might enlist a family member to help.

Maybe your spouse, child, or sibling will join you for a bike ride, take a class with you, or teach you one of his or her favorite fitness activities. Think about those active families you know and draw inspiration from them. Can you adopt any of their habits, like taking a walk together after dinner or playing catch for a few minutes before school?

(It's okay if your aim is terrible or you can't field the ball. You'll just get more exercise running around after it!)

Maybe you respond better to external motivation. Consider getting a pedometer or other activity tracker. The Zamzee activity meter is designed for kids, but you might enjoy setting up an account alongside your child.

Or take a different route: Motivate yourself to move in order to help a favorite cause. Running may not be your thing, but training for a 5K could be more manageable, and meaningful, if you're doing it to raise money for a charity you support.

How Non-Athletes Can Support Athletes

You may never be as sporty as your child, and that's fine. Demonstrating a willingness to try new things, and to get and stay healthy, is more important. But if your child plays a sport, there is much you can do from the sidelines.

Maybe you're not comfortable coaching, but you can do other volunteer service to help them team or league. Maybe you don't know the first thing about soccer or tae kwon do, but you can still cheer for your child (and make the effort to ask a few questions or do a little research about his chosen activity). This will help you give the kind of detailed feedback that kids crave: "You really got your leg high on that front kick!" or "Really nice passing today."

Before long, you'll be a real role model—without reinventing yourself!

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