5 Ways to Develop Athleticism in Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Living

Guest post by Meghan Phillips, Ph.D. from Kidematics

We usually associate athleticism with developing athletes. But it’s essential to promote athletic development at an early age for more than just sports.  

The Long-Term Athletic Development Model (LTAD) shows that laying an athletic foundation of meaningful, effective, engaging, and enjoyable movement is the groundwork for an active and healthy life at all ages.

It’s vital that parents, or anyone working with kids, implement strategies to help a child grow to reach their full potential as a mover while also instilling confidence and competence in physical activity. 

In this article, we’ll explore strategies to help children develop appropriately in their physical activity.

1. Add Variety and Boundaries

Incorporating basic locomotor skills daily, like running, jumping, skipping, etc. builds essential abilities and cardiovascular endurance. But as Graham’s Movement Wheel shows, there are many other types of movement patterns to consider— classified as locomotor, non-manipulative, and manipulative movements.



Engaging in movement around the entire wheel helps to develop the full ABCs of athleticism. It teaches kids to move in spaces with and without other people, to use various objects, and develops agility, balance, and coordination.

You can promote the full movement wheel by applying physical boundaries and objects when practicing movement with kids. This helps them learn to play in a given area without running into things and using their bodies to manipulate objects. Then add twists using the movement wheel to explore different movement patterns (ex. move in a zig-zag path straight ahead.)

Creating obstacle courses is one great way to facilitate activity and spatial awareness across a span of movement.

2. Create Successful & Challenging Opportunities 

If a child isn’t successful, it will not be fun. But at the same time, if it’s too easy, it will also not be fun either. 

Creating adequate challenges requires seeing movement as a progression. Starting at the most basic level for any skill and then progressing as they become proficient. For example, think of how you can make the task of throwing and catching easier and harder across the movement span. 

Usually, it’s taught beginning with a baseball and softly throwing it for a young child to catch. For most children, it’s nearly an impossible task and will cause frustration and lead the child to want to give up. The idea is to create success and then add enough difficulty where success can still occur while still challenging. 

A beginner may throw and catch a large, lightweight, slow-moving, and bright-colored object instead of the advanced mover who might catch a heavy, hard, fast, and dull object. A beginner may also need to use both hands instead of one hand, and the advanced mover may be working on throwing different types of pitches for a baseball game. 

Teach behind the task as well. Letting your child know it should be hard enough to make them feel that it’s not easy. This develops confidence, work ethic, and skill all simultaneously.

3. Make it FUN! 

Kids are highly motivated movers. And for those who aren’t, it’s a matter of finding what’s fun to them. There is an endless number of strategies to do this for different children. Try introducing other challenges or stations, making it competitive, or adding an element of being productive or creative.

For kids who love technology, they often enjoy turning their favorite games into movement activities. I have seen this first-hand in our programs with apps like Pokémon Go and Minecraft. One game we often play uses exercise to earn you a piece of equipment and then gathering as many items as possible to build something with what you have collected. 

The kids are getting exercise but are more focused on gathering items to build with after the time is up. Our games also help teach social skills through the natural challenges that come with physical activity and how they are overcome by working with groups.

Perhaps there is a lesson you want to teach regarding collaboration with siblings or others; there is no better way than a physical task or game in which they must learn to communicate and work together.

4. Be the Role Model and Initiator. 

When a child sees how something is done, they are learning. For that reason, if you want your children to move, you need to model the behavior to help promote it. 

Participating with your kids is important, but it’s also hard to balance your exercise along with theirs as well. If you are working out, give them their own mini set up that maybe looks similar to yours (foam weights, mini exercise equipment, etc.). 

But also know they don’t always have to do workouts with you to see the benefits. Just having them be in your area shows them the need for time to be active, while at the same time, respecting that you need an uninterrupted time for focus, is a valuable lesson to teach as well. 

If they want to move with you, I always encourage it, but it’s also ok to establish a boundary for “you” time. Be the model, encourage participation together, and let them see you doing something good for your body.

5. Be Consistent. 

We can’t deny Newton’s First Law of Motion: 

“Objects in motion stay in motion, objects at rest stay at rest.” 

While this is specifically related to mechanical motion, it’s very true to the laws of human nature as well. Because of this, it’s important to emphasize that some movement should happen every day with kids. 

Start by setting up places inside and outside where kids can move and play safely. Lack of accessibility is often the most significant factor for lack of activity. 

Then build it into their daily routine with mandatory movement time. As this becomes a regular part of the routine for each day, it becomes easier to instill for a lifetime. 

An activity tracker is an easy way to monitor daily movement. There are many activity monitors on the market to help kids reach their daily physical activity goals, which becomes increasingly difficult to achieve as they get older and start losing opportunities throughout their day.

Parenting—It’s a Big Job.

You will be the initiator and accountability partner for all things throughout your child’s life. This includes helping them stay active, especially if they do not choose to participate in organized sports. 

It is a tough job, but a significant one. 

Instilling healthy levels of physical activity and developing movement literacy will help them be active for a lifetime and add benefits for aspects of their health.

Remember that developing athleticism doesn’t have to be sport-related. Take these five tips and use them in promoting quality physical activity experiences for your children at home.