There are so many family fun runs and kids’ sporting competitions. Should you sign your child up for these? We ask the experts what you should know and how you can help your little one prepare for the event.
Choose the right race
Before signing your kid up, find out what type of exercise he enjoys, suggests Dr Cindy Lin, senior staff registrar at the Changi Sports Medicine Centre.
Does he like walking, jogging, sprinting, swimming or cycling? From talking to him, you will be able to tell what kind of event he will be most interested in. If it’s his first race, remember to choose a sport that he has done before, and a distance that you think he will be comfortable with.
Brad Robinson, founder and chief executive officer of Ritual Gym, says that if your child isn’t an active runner or athlete, then it’s best to start him off really slowly: “Go with fun events such as walks or simple obstacle courses.
“Jumping straight into a race would be too daunting for him. Young children have plenty of time to develop, so small steps are the way to go.”
If your kid isn’t keen on taking part alone, find an event that he can do with you. If you can turn it into a fun family or team event, even better, Dr Lin adds.
Train the right way
Don’t underestimate the importance of training, even if the event is a mere “fun run”. Practice prepares your child physically and mentally, and can influence the way he handles himself on the actual day of the race.
So, make sure he starts training as soon as he signs up for the event, and take note of how he does it, too.
“Running outdoors is very different from running on a treadmill in a gym and, likewise, swimming in open water is much more challenging than swimming in a pool,” says Dr Lin.
“Prepare your child by getting him to exercise in similar environmental and location conditions to where the race will occur, and well beforehand.”
Your child should also be familiar with the basic rules of the event, and try to stick to them on training days. For instance, if he is taking part in a cycling competition where only mountain bikes or hybrid bikes are allowed, then that’s the type of bicycle he should train on.
If the race is long or comprises multiple events – for example, a biathlon, which includes cycling and running – make sure your child starts training slowly. “Set small incremental goals and focus on the little victories instead of looking at the ultimate goal, which can be a little daunting,” Brad points out.
Watch his pre-race diet
Make sure that your little one enjoys plenty of lean meat and fish, healthy fat and unrefined carbohydrates to help fuel him during training and on the day of the race itself, says Brad.
There should not be any need for supplements as long as his diet is generally healthy and varied.
Marianne Koh always makes sure to give her six-year-old daughter a hearty breakfast before a race and on mornings of training days. “Oatmeal with milk provides sustained energy and a good amount of protein,” says the 39-year-old financial consultant.
Remember, too, that the more active your child is, the more you can expect him to eat, so don’t be surprised if his appetite increases during his training period, Brad advises.
(Also read: How to encourage children to try new sports)
Get medical clearance
Getting the green light from a paediatrician or a sports physician is a helpful precaution for any child. This is especially important if your kid has a personal or family history of medical problems that might affect his ability to exercise, such as asthma or a heart condition, says Dr Lin.
If he takes medication regularly, it would be wise to check if he should take part in the race.
(Also read: More sports and less television for junior)
Get the right gear – and protect his skin
Depending on the type of event he is participating in, it’s important that he is dressed right on the big day. If he is doing a run, for instance, Dr Lin suggests applying sunscreen on his body, putting him in UV-protective clothing, and making him wear sunglasses and a hat.
And a race is not the right time to be breaking in new shoes, as this can hurt his feet. “As kids are always growing, you’ll want to get your child’s feet measured for the right shoes before each and every race,” says Susanne Lee, a 42-year-old graphic designer who has a 12-year-old, triathlon-loving son. “If his shoes are even a tiny bit too big or too small, they can cause plenty of discomfort and even injury.”
(Also read: 6 tips for buying your child sports shoes)
Ready him for race day
Have a chat with your child on the day of the race. If he expresses discomfort at participating or feels ill, don’t force him to carry on. And make sure that he knows what the race entails, including any safety and etiquette rules.
“Kids doing these races should be well-versed and experienced in the sport they are trying out, having practised many hours before trying,” says Brad.
Beat the heat with water
“Children are not able to regulate their body temperature in response to heat as well as adults are, so it’s especially important to make sure they don’t get heat stroke during the race,” says Dr Lin.
Keep your kid well hydrated by having him carry a bottle of iced water or a sports drink, and reminding him to hydrate himself regularly – before, during and after the event.
Teach him the right attitude
It’s easy to get caught up in the competition, but remind your child that such events are just for fun, says Brad.
If he starts the race with this understanding, he is more likely to enjoy the experience and will be keen to take part in future races.
Encourage him to do his best, but don’t ask him to push himself hard, or worse, take risks during the race.
And if he did not do as well as he had hoped…
Taking part in a race can help teach kids the importance of practice and preparation. If he doesn’t come in first or completes the race in the time that he wants, encourage him to see the positives, suggests Brad.
“For example, it’s a victory in itself that he even signed up and showed up for the race, seeing as an incredibly small percentage of children even try these challenging events.
“Tell him that he was courageous to compete and that courage is a life skill that will come in handy when he is older. Help him focus on his personal numbers, too. Say something like: ‘You finished one minute and 12 seconds faster than your last race – what a great improvement!’”
This is also your chance to discuss how to handle setbacks constructively, but do reinforce the fact that, while everybody wants to come in first, the reality is that this is impossible.
If the race was a fund-raiser, explain to your child how his participation has helped that particular cause or charity.