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Are Kids Born Natural Athletes?

by Rachel Pancare, studioD

Some kids seem to have innate skills that help them thrive in sports and exercise while others simply can't compete. Though most children can learn to play sports, genetics play a significant role in a child's athletic ability. Genetics can affect lung capability, strength, flexibility, muscle makeup and endurance. Instead of solely focusing on your child's natural talents, consider what she actually enjoys doing.

Body Type

We can teach a child the rules of a sport, but we can't teach her to have the ideal body for that sport. Children can exercise to become more fit, stretch to improve flexibility or lift weights and do pushups and situps to build muscle. But these activities won't change their bone structure or genes. Some children are simply born with body structures that help them succeed as athletes. A child with a longer, leaner body type might excel at ballet. A petite and proportional child can do well in gymnastics. A taller child might have an easier time playing basketball. When children have an athletic appearance or seem naturally inclined toward a certain sport, some parents push them into activities they don't actually like. Don't forget to gauge your child's interest in addition to her strengths.

Rhythm and Coordination

Some children are born with better rhythm and coordination. While parents can help their children improve these skills through frequent practice, certain kids will advance beyond others. You can encourage your children to do balancing exercises, mirror games or simultaneous arm and leg movements. But some children will continue to struggle. According to Brian Grasso in his Perform Better article titled "Coordination and Movement Skill Development -- The Key to Long-Term Athletic Success," "Less coordinated children will likely never exhibit the tendencies of naturally coordinated children regardless of training."

Speed and Endurance

Children who are faster and have higher endurance levels are predisposed to being natural athletes. A child's lung function and leg strength and structure affects her ability to move quickly or move for long periods. An article in "The New York Times" titled "Born to Run? Little Ones Get Test for Sports Gene," reports that the ACTN3 gene might provide valuable information about a child's speed and endurance capabilities. In fact, a test and analysis of the gene might be able to predict a child’s natural athletic strengths. DNA collected from inside a child's cheek and along the gums can be tested to see whether she is more suited for speed and power activities or endurance activities.

Failure and Success

Some children who are naturally more athletic do not enjoy sports while others who are not as physically fit love them. Whether your child is a natural athlete or not, find out what truly interests her. Expose her to different activities if possible, but guide her toward discovering her passions in addition to her natural gifts. An article in "The New York Times" titled "Being Bad (at Sports) Can Be Good," suggests that if we test our kids for their natural athletic strengths and then push them where they're bound to excel, we might deprive them of the journey toward success. They will never learn to fail and try again, or fail and realize that we won't and can't be good at everything.

About the Author

Rachel Pancare taught elementary school for seven years before moving into the K-12 publishing industry. Pancare holds a Master of Science in childhood education from Bank Street College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Skidmore College.

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