How big an influence do our own passions and interests have on our children’s lives – despite our best efforts? I’ve always tried hard not to inflict my own biases and prejudices on my children and encourage them to do things I didn’t – or so I thought. But without meaning to we can close off whole areas of life – just because they are things we haven’t considered.
Last week I took the children to meet British tennis coach Judy Murray who has just launched Set4Sport – a way of getting young children interested in sport and developing the relevant skills they will need with very simple games.
The book is inspired by games that Judy played with her own sons when they were young. She is the first to admit she was from a sporty family so she wanted to play ball games with her boys almost as soon as they could walk (not being very sporty mine played with jigsaws and read books because they were around and things they could do on their own while I was working from home. Oh dear!)
Judy though knew that by starting the kids early with basic games of catch, (I did manage to do that) or making cereal packets into a net for a game of table tennis on the kitchen table (this would NEVER have occurred to me and not only because our kitchen table isn’t big enough!) she was helping develop the skills needed for playing sport properly in later life .
She believes in this very strongly and so has developed Set4Sport, to spread the word to others, like me perhaps, to whom it may not come so naturally. Set4 sport is not rocket science – but then they say the simplest ideas are the best. It is really all about playing games and having fun at home with your kids, using everyday household objects as equipment.
Biscuit tin lids make great bats, a rope tied between two chairs is a net on a kids size tennis court. Yes ok Judy does use foam balls rather than spherical pieces of fruit or balls of knitting wool. But the point is you don’t need to go out and buy expensive equipment.
And in fact if you read her book you don’t even need to use your imagination as Judy has already worked out the games that are easy to setup and enjoy and develop the ABC of sporting skills, which are agility, balance and coordination. Another learning point for non sporty mum!
The book is great. Simple colourful and laminated so it won’t get tatty with overuse. And Judy herself is a wonderful example of how to motivate and involve children in activities, in a way that I guess comes with being a coach: warm, friendly and patient but making sure that the children keep playing and don’t get distracted and wander off. Unfortunately I don’t think there is a Set4Sport package that comes with Judy as a sporty on-site Mary Poppins, so you will just have to develop that persona over time – a lot of time in my case.
Some of the games are very simple – walking with a beanbag on your head for balance and posture or High Jump where you hold your hand out and the child has to jump up and touch it – you can alter the height very easily and need no equipment at all unless you are dangling a tie or ribbon for a smaller child. This develops leg strength, balance and teaches you to jump vertically – useful for tennis, basketball, football, badminton, netball etc. Or there’s Jackpot where you get three buckets and put them in a straight line so that each bucket is slightly further away from you and the children. Then you throw the ball into the buckets or cardboard boxes and get more points for scoring in the bucket that is furthest away.
The game I like most was the one that looked least like a sport called Jumping the River. You use two pieces of rope to form the banks – fill it with plastic or cuddly fish, sharks, penguins – whatever you have to hand . The idea is you jump over it and don’t land in the water, The river is made wider by moving the ropes apart and then you have to run up jump and land. You can put a hoop one side and try to land in the hoop or throw a ball and the child standing in the hoop tries to catch the ball. There are many variations and here yes you do use your imagination – but the running jumping and landing skills are apparently all good precursors to long jump or triple jump.
My only regret is that I didn’t think about this sooner. My children’s lack of sportiness was not a foregone conclusion. Just because I’m not sporty the same does not have to be said for them.
It’s not entirely too late as they are 6 and 8 and they have both just developed an interest in football ( from their dad) but I can see that these games are actually a great way of getting the kids off the computer or TV and doing something physical and active – which has to be a good thing – as well as preparing them as competitors in the next Olympics.
And there is no reason to doubt that these activities really do develop the right skills to take up sport seriously as an older child. If you hadn’t already made the connection Judy’s two sons who played all these games as kids are Jamie and Andy Murray. You may have heard of them – now get out those buckets and skipping ropes!
Details of the games are all on the Set4sport website and are free to download and, perhaps because the venture is sponsored by RBS, you can even order the book for free.