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Back To School – The Activity Trap

kids activities

The back to school season is when the pressure is at its highest for parents to put their kids in 101 extracurricular  activities.

Many parents get caught up in dizzying combinations of driving their child to soccer, piano lessons, dance, gymnastics, and cub scouts – all by Friday afternoon… Then they run from the Saturday 9AM gymnastics meet to the 2 PM soccer game followed by the evening piano recital. The kids also have to try and squeeze in homework, friendships, and some simple fun before starting all over on Monday. The massive stress of the constant rushing, overcommitment, and the inability to actually excel at any one thing dampens any small benefit these activities might otherwise provide.

The prevalent thought that kids should try their hand at lots of different activities is valid but for the most part they will indeed try lots of sports, instruments and other things in school. To put them in a specialized after school programs should not be the norm but the exception. Overwhelming kids with dozens of activities and sports in addition to the experimentation they have in gym class is typically not be the best course of action. Many studies have shown a distinct link to numerous behavioral problems when children are overwhelmed with too many activities on a tightly wound schedule.

The key is balance. For example, swimming is a fun and valuable activity but rather than randomly throwing the kids in some professional swim course 3 times a week, why not just take them to the pool? You could combine some precious family time and natural fun with zero stress. If at some point as they get older they show interest in competitive swimming that may be the time to join a program but it really should happen organically.

The reality is that most of these sports and activities will just end up being trivial distractions. Although in itself this is fine, it may come at the price of other more impact-full activities not being fulfilled. The benefits a child can gain by actually achieving excellence in one or two areas far outweigh the benefits of being mediocre at dozens of things.

Many children in Europe grow up never wielding a hockey stick and yet are no more deprived of life experiences than Canadian children. They simply enjoyed something else.

Of course there is one activity that does not fall into the seasonal sport category. Martial arts is unique and really in a category of its own. It transcends the momentary fun factor and provides value that will impact children right through adulthood.

Long after the excitement of kicking a soccer ball or bouncing on a trampoline is gone, the confidence, focus and discipline from martial arts training endures.

An exceptional martial arts program should be on the same level of importance for parents as school. School is designed to arm children with the practical knowledge required to contend in our society while martial arts will equip them with the focused, disciplined and unwavering confidence to conquer life’s challenges and reach their full potential.

If you look at anyone that has reached the peak of any profession or field, determination, focus and a non-quitting spirit was the fuel to their success.

However intelligent Thomas Edison was, it was not just his scientific brilliance that led him to invent the incandescent light bulb. Edison failed more than 1000 times in his attempts. Most others would have quit. It was his unwavering focus and determination in the face of obstacles that carried him to become one of the most famous inventors in history.  When asked about his failures he simply said: “I did not fail, I simply discovered 1000 ways not to make a lightbulb.”

Some children are indeed born with these traits but they can certainly be cultivated and enhanced. Many children however desperately need to be guided and challenged to develop the focus, self-discipline, and confidence to be all they can be.

Although Martial Arts training is not mandated by the state, it perhaps should be! At the very least when choosing your back to school activities put scholastic success and martial arts as the essentials, then choose between soccer and dance as the extracurriculars.