ATA Excellence Martial Arts

What Happened to the Casual Athlete?

Posted: January 30, 2017

Once upon a time, there was a child who wasn’t a gifted athlete. His dad took him outside to learn to catch a ball, and it was a disaster. His parents signed him up for tee-ball and he took part but never excelled. After a year or two, he didn’t want to continue because the team started practicing four days a week and kids were starting to make fun of those who didn’t play as well.

This young man wanted to try out for the middle school track team but since he wasn’t an “athlete” like the other guys in his class he was too intimidated. Everyone else was playing three of four sports, and he couldn’t find one he was good at. Instead, he sat in his room playing video games.

Though this story is made up, I’m sure you know many people who can relate to it. It seems that in our culture you’re either an athlete, which means you play a minimum of 3 sports, or your not. There seems to be no place for the casual athlete, and that’s hurting our children.

Being active is something we were born to do. No one is meant to sit at a computer all day, every day but so many people feel that they can’t be a “real” athlete because they never played on a school team. What a disservice we do our children by not helping them see that they can be an athlete at any level.

Throughout school, I never played organized sports because they just never fit with me, and very few people I grew up with would have considered me “athletic.” Still today, I have a hard time using that terminology even though I’m a master martial artist; I’ve run multiple races between 5K and a marathon, and more. My reservation about using the term athlete all stems from this idea that if you didn’t play multiple sports (and mainline ones), then you’re not really that athletic.

This could, of course, all be in my head but that brings up the, though. Could this be in your child’s head as well?

We need to foster an environment where we encourage anyone and everyone to be physical in their own way. So here are some tips for helping foster your child into a casual athlete!

  • Take walks as a family! This is a great time to talk and show that physical activity can be an everyday part of life.
  • Sign up for a 5K or 1-mile fun run! This short race can help your children see that they don’t have to be world class to enjoy the journey.
  • Do an activity because you love it, not because you’re great at it! If I’d only stayed in martial arts if I won lots of tournaments, I’d never be where I am today. I continued my training because I enjoyed it and then got better at it. Not the other way around. Sadly, many mainline sports for kids don’t give you this option anymore.
  • Model the casual athlete lifestyle for your family. If you’re not showing that it’s possible to be a casual athlete at whatever age you are, then you’re not leading by example. Find an activity you love and do it, or start doing one with your family.

The sad fact is that most child athletes burn out and stop playing the sport they are in after high school or college anyways (some long before that) which does them more harm than good. We want to help our children see that being an athlete is something they can do their whole life, not just while they’re young.