Training our Babies to be Athletes

GymTrix asks parents to wake up their infant's physical ability

Do you have a baby or toddler at home? How often do they workout?

Pardon? You haven’t considered their physical literacy? Did you know that babies as young as four weeks old need someone to teach them muscular movements? They need to learn these movements as soon as possible. If they don’t, there is no way your child will become any sort of athlete. Worse yet, they might fall prey to the childhood obesity epidemic. But don’t worry; there are videos and programs to help you along. Now, if you’d just open your wallet…

A story about sport training for babies made the New York Times on December 1, 2010 And Jian Ghomeshi followed up on the story on CBC Radio on December 10, 2010.

Despite comments from many outraged readers and listeners, there are a multitude of companies capitalizing on a parent’s belief that their children need structured activities and professional instruction in order to develop physically. The ‘experts’ call this ‘physical literacy.’ It is the idea that children need to be taught how to move. And perhaps, if you believe the marketing slogans of such groups as Baby Goes Pro, developing your infant’s physical literacy will give them an edge in becoming an athlete.

If your infant is like the one described in Jian Ghomeshi’s report – contained all day by various contraptions like a car seat, jolly jumper, play pen, or stroller – then I will concede that a discussion about physical opportunity is a discussion worth having. But, it is important to understand that introducing structured physical activities does not solve the problem of our cultural acceptance to contain our children. Programs that give children an opportunity to be physical are just another form of containment – jump and run in the gym where you’re supervised, but please don’t try it at home in your backyard. We have become a culture that is very accepting of micromanaging our children’s development.

Let’s re-think programs that tout physical literacy (and I’m not talking just about the ones for infants and toddlers). Parents have unquestioningly accepted the premise that physical skill is taught, not self-discovered. We think that healthy physical habits are demonstrated by structured activities and preclude anything impulsive. Our cultural definition of physical literacy applauds the child who plays organized hockey twice a week but dismisses the child who participates in a game of impromptu street hockey.

Free the children to play outside. Give them balls. Let them play with sticks. Leave them alone to discover their own physical abilities and limits. And don’t forget to model healthy behaviour yourself. There is nothing more annoying than an unfit, overweight parent who thinks that dragging their infant to Baby Gym is going to provide their child with healthy habits.

Think this is only an American news story? Think again. Little Gym just opened up in Airdrie, Alberta, Canada.

Not outraged yet? Check out this video.

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  11. 11 Ginger December 21, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I agree with Michelle–intent is really important. We’ve taken Jackson to Gymboree, not because we think he needs structured play (mostly, actually, he ignores the structured part), but because we’d like him to experience play with other children (there are a multitude of reasons this is a constant struggle in our lives). He gets to play and climb and explore as much as he wants at home, and at parks, and well, wherever we go. But the social interaction at Gymboree is something we can’t provide at home.

  12. 12 Pamella December 15, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Have we forgot how to be human! I mean really! Laura…you must come to Egypt with us one day! Kids in our town do not have “toys.” Remember growing up…it is pretty much the same.

  13. 13 Michelle December 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Very true!! However, I think using these classes and play-gyms selectively can be useful, depending on your motivations for using them. When my son was a toddler it was difficult to spend any length of time outside in the winter with him (he’d get too cold, didn’t like his snowsuit, etc.)…Gymboree was great. Twice a week for the 10 coldest weeks of winter we had an outlet for an excess of energy. For the rest of our winter days, we relied on furniture at home, the occasional swimming pools and some indoor playgrounds. We didn’t do it to make him an athlete or keep him thin, we did it to give him a place to run, climb and play.

    • 14 Mama Tortoise December 14, 2010 at 8:07 am

      Thanks for your comments, Michelle.

      I think that your point about motivation is key. If you’re using the gym as a method of, let’s say, enhancing your toddler’s eye-hand coordination, then that is a path that I find fault with. However, in a snowy climate (I hear you about the snow gear!), gyms or indoor playgrounds are a great way to give kids an opportunity for free play and to stretch their legs. Just keep my kids away from any structured ‘play’. Trust me, I’m all about finding places for the Bear and Banana to run and climb through the winter.

      Play can be enhanced with tools (toys or equipment), just don’t show the children methods about using the tools.

      • 15 Michelle December 14, 2010 at 2:53 pm

        Exactly!! Children know how to play. They don’t need us to “teach” them. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them….


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