How To Get Kids To Love Vigorous Physical Activity

4 Things That Will Get Children Up And Running

The other day I watched my 2 and 4-year-old daughters chasing birds down at a local playing field.

Dodging, weaving, changing pace, accelerating, decelerating, running up and down slopes,  and across changing surfaces . . . laughing, completely absorbed, and not wanting to stop. It lasted for ages. There was no structure, formality or adult intervention. No instruction or correction. No waiting in lines. No off-task behaviour.

It was as good a vigorous “running session” that any coach, trainer or teacher could have dreamed of delivering to kids.

If that was what a youth sport practice session or fitness class always looked like, you would never have problem getting the kids there week-after-week.

So how can we re-produce this type of environment when it comes to adult-led physical activities for kids?

Four Elements That Engage

We should be very alert to what we can learn when we watch children really engaged by organically-occurring vigorous play.

I suspect that we will see:

1. Context

The physical activity will mean something to the kids. They will see a tangible reason behind it (even if we don’t!).

Implication for Adults

Provide a backdrop to activities that will resonate with the kids. The kids need a purpose to perform. Games, challenges, stories, imagination and imitation are all elements that can be woven into a session.

2. Action

All the kids have an active, significant role. No one is left out.

Implication for Adults

Minimise waiting, lines and lectures. Avoid elimination games (where kids “go out”).

3. Freedom

The kids have some influence over what the activity looks like. They are heard and their voice matters.

Implication for Adults

Look for ways in which the kids can influence the look and progress of a session. Actively encourage them to contribute and make decisions.

4. Play

There is lots of laughing and smiling and fun to be had.

Implication for Adults

Find out what “fun” means to the kids and inject it into sessions. Closely study how kids react to what you program. Let smiles become your key signal of success.

Coaches, teachers and trainers who work with kids in a physical activity setting need to carefully craft their sessions to resemble a child-driven play session. Consider what the kids would do if they were in charge and then build a session around this.

Kids love vigorous physical activity – if they can see a point to it, they have their say and it feels like play.


Help kids to love vigorous physical activity by ensuring it:

  1. Has a context
  2. Is action-packed
  3. Allows for some freedom and decision-making
  4. Feels like play

Over to you!

Use the above list of features as a checklist when planning a session. Try to include them all. After the session, reflect on how well you did this and what element/s you would like to focus on next time.

Use the CYA Session Engagement Checklist to help you with this process.

Click here to download the checklist for free

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.

Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.

Click here to subscribe for free to the Coaching Young Athletes email list and receive a complimentary mini e-book!

Do you want that little bit extra? Learn about Coaching Young Athletes membership HERE.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: