Ibn Umar (RA) reported that our beloved Prophet (SAW) said, “Teach your children swimming, archery and horse riding”. It is also reported in Sahih Muslim that the Prophet (SAW) said, “Practice archery and horseback riding.”
I heard a beautiful saying about raising children – “Play with them for 7 (years), teach them manners for 7, and take them as a companion for 7.” What strikes me about all of these groups of 7 is the emphasis on the physical and emotional involvement with these humans who are our flesh and blood. Playing, teaching and befriending them. This is the organic, natural way to get to know and help shape the little creations Allah (SWT) has given to our care. We live in a bizarre world in 2012, where technology has hijacked humans; homes often function without real interaction and meaningful communication between the people living in them.
As parents, guardians, aunts, sisters or family friends, we can lead by example with our young people when it comes to sport and fitness, just as we can in religion, education and manners. Sometimes children will simply fall into a sport or lean towards being active themselves, but very often they need encouragement and participation from a parent or adult. Simply sitting back and saying, “My child is just not sporty”, is a cop out. Recently there were a series of short interviews featuring the mothers of some of the British Olympic champions and premier league player’s mothers. They all spoke of the personal sacrifice they, as mothers, made in order for their child to be able to compete and achieve to such a high level. We may not be aiming for Olympic success, but the benefits of sport for children are huge. Britain has been facing a drain on its resources because of the increase in obesity rates. Children are often sitting down and watching sport on TV, whilst remaining inactive themselves. It is a general governmental recommendation in The UK and the US that children engage in 1 hour of physical activity every day. This can include walking, riding, skating or going on a scooter to school. It can be something as simple as playing with a skipping rope or playing tag with friends.
Exercise does obvious things like reducing body fat, but it also strengthens bones, aids co-ordination, increases balance and flexibility, improves stamina and concentration and reduces anxiety and sadness. When we give our children the gift of sport, we are giving them a means to expend their energy in a fun, halal way that benefits their body and mind, insha Allah. Statistics have shown that children who start young are more likely to exercise as adults, thus carrying the benefits with them. So, start the habit early!
Sometimes, children growing up in countries where they are part of a Muslim minority need to have a strong character and staying power. Sport can help nurture valuable life skills, which can contribute to this. Sports have the potential to impact your child’s overall self-esteem, self-worth and confidence. Exercising daily can give children a better outlook on their bodies and fitness levels, and even small children can become more confident when they excel at certain sports. Whether it is martial arts, swimming, basketball or football, mastering a skill gives a child more confidence to try new activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics remarks that with confidence and parental support, sports can positively impact the way children feel about themselves. Sport is an excellent character-building tool. You may think that football entails nothing more than kicking a ball up and down the field, but it subtly incorporates the importance of teamwork and time and conflict management. Losing a game in sport teaches a child how to control their emotions, as well as giving them a goal to work towards. Having training sessions teaches them how to discipline themselves to turn up on time and hopefully put 100% into what they are doing. None of these are intended to take away the fun aspect or enjoyment of the sport.
Sometimes, a parent may need to be patient while their child experiments and finds a sport that they really get into. I sat through a tedious year of judo with my son (sorry any judo fans) before he took to football, something we are still surprised about, as there are no football influences in our home at all. I have friends who are super busy trying to juggle the extracurricular sports their children like, along with the demands of family and all that goes with it. But they persevere, purely because the child enjoys it, and the parent recognises the benefits for their child. Unless your child is at a school with a fantastic, inclusive system of sports, the effort must come from home. Children love nothing better than their parents playing with them. It can be as simple as going to the park with a ball, riding bikes together or taking a family walk – throwing a picnic into the equation usually helps. Let’s step away from the screens and enjoy our children and enjoy ourselves in the process.
Little changes to think about:
Driving. Next time you go to do something in the car, ask yourself if you could go by foot instead. Try and develop the habit of walking to places. It’s cheaper, environmentally friendly and you are getting in some exercise.
Involve the Dads! Set up weekly football matches for the children. Dads can make up the numbers if there are not enough children around. Even better, is having children versus parents. Children always love this.
Do exercise at home. This can range from yoga to aerobics, skipping and drill type activities. If you do them with the children, they will inevitably have fun.
Clara has always loved sports and the great outdoors. Since she was small, one of her favourite places has been an empty field. She has nurtured the love of adventure and nature in her children. She is proud of her eldest son, age 8, who hiked ‘as well any adult’ this summer, in Ireland.