The Summer Olympic Games hope to “Inspire a Generation” with two weeks of events including swimming, cycling and gymnastics that will dominate more than 272 hours of airtime on NBC stations, and experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say the exposure is a great opportunity to show kids a variety of sports and activities they can pursue.
American kids ages 6-17 most often participate in team sports, unlike the summer Olympians who will be cycling, running, vaulting and swimming, according to a 2011 report from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Administration.
“The Games are a great chance to pique kids’ interest in sports they don’t see every day on television or in their communities,” says Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., UAB Wellness coordinator and a member of the U.S. Youth National Soccer Team that won gold at the 1999 Pan American Games.
“You never know when your kid might excel at something that is just outside the norm; challenge them to try new sports and activities and expand their horizons,” Whitt says.
|“The Games are a great chance to pique kids’ interest in sports they don’t see every day on television or in their communities."
Stacey Torman, UAB’s director of Olympic sports enhancement, says participating in games like tennis or volleyball can also help kids perform better in more mainstream sports.
“Learning different skills can be useful if a child decides to play basketball or football. Niche sports can enhance them physically, teach hand-eye coordination and help them learn different movement patterns,” Torman says.
“There may not be college scholarships for events such as archery or cycling, but if you know there’s some way you can get your child involved in that sport, encourage it,” Torman says. “Participating in these things in their community and watching the Summer Olympics could inspire them to have the dream of making it that far.”
Whitt says no matter the sport a child chooses, the benefits of their being active are long-lasting, and go beyond good health.
“Kids involved with athletics learn leadership skills; they learn to work well with others toward a single goal. They also learn to seek authority positions and take charge of different situations that are thrown their way,” Whitt says.