I’ll echo what others have said and add some more anecdotes to the thread. I’m a father of two kids (8 and 12), coach of my eldest mtb club, and found joy in cycling at the age of 30 (now 39 ¾ ). Based on this I have some mantras I try to uphold.
- Internal motivation is key
- Kids are different
- Focus on physical activity, not creating athletes
- Sometimes a push is needed
My kids are totally different. While my oldest is motivated by competition and likes to challenge himself, my youngest not at all. As an example, at the age of 5 my oldest rode every 100km on our biking holiday despite give the option of sitting in the bike trolley. Even on the last day with 33km in brutal head winds. My younger on the other side, we had great challenges motivating her for riding the 2km to kindergarten at the same age. She didn’t feel success or accomplishment on the top of the small hill, she just felt tired.
I see the same thing when coaching my son’s mtb group. Some kids just like to play on their bikes, some are there because “dad rides”, while others are dead serious racing machines. Planning and supporting such a group could be a challenge… But I think we have found a good recipe, focusing on the social aspect, and playing on the bike. We mix it up, and we talk to the kids to get their feedback. If at the end of a session most of them have some sweat in their hair and a smile on their face, that’s a good session. If I could contribute to these kids (and my kids) choosing an active lifestyle, then goal achieved. Because that’s what 99,99% of the population needs. That small fraction that will be athletes, even world champions, will need to find that motivation themselves. As a dad, and a coach, I’m simply setting the table for them to make this decision.
Then the “push”, which is a bit more complex… In my youth I was not pushed at all. My parents “protected” me from failure, and in retrospect this is the one thing I’m kind of p***d about. Even as an asthmatic and overweigh kid I could almost keep up with the nordic skiing kids when running during PE. As an adult cyclist my riding buddies say I have a basement below the basement. I.e. I can dig deep. It seems I have a talent for endurance sports. But I only figured this out until my early 30s when I started cycling to shed (a lot) of weight. Not saying I would have been a great athlete or anything (who knows), but this overly protective parenting never gave me the chance. Thus, I think we also need to exercise a bit of push. But the push needs to different, since kids are different. And you need to adjust based on the feedback. This winter my youngest did her longest skiing trip, and that required some pushing. When we finished, she was tired, but also very proud. She now knows she can do something she thought was impossible just days before. Perhaps this opened a door of possibilities for her, or perhaps this is the longest skiing trip she will do. I don’t know.
At 18 my cycling buddies were national level athletes in hockey and soccer, while I was overweight playing D&D and smoking a pack a day. Today I’m smoking (pun intended) them on the hills. Who knows what life had been if I had been given the option to explore this side of me more in my early years…
Sorry for the long, somewhat chaotic, and slightly off-topic post. This is something I as a parent have reflected a lot about. I believe that helping kids find their internal motivation by challenging them, by learning to fail and raise again, by supporting them, that’s what creates capable humans.