New Rules of Kids' Fitness

3. Know When To Praise

Kids aren't stupid. Say a child whiffs at three pitches in a row. The modern parent often tells him, "Good try." But that type of hollow praise doesn't console him, or help him the next time he steps up to the plate. "Praise should be specific and authentic, as in, 'Good job juggling the ball 10 times. I see you've been practicing a lot. Your efforts have paid off,' " says Liston. "You should also mix instruction and encouragement when your child makes a mistake." So look for a teaching point, even on a strikeout. For instance, you might say, "Good eye on that second and third pitch. Keep swinging at pitches like those, and the hits will come."

Perhaps just as important, avoid telling the kid what he should have done: "You have to swing sooner, Billy!" There's nothing wrong with acknowledging mistakes, but keep the focus of your instruction on what the child is doing correctly. This will boost his confidence and help him improve faster. You might liken it to the approach parents use when a toddler is learning to walk. They typically encourage every tiny step of improvement instead of dwelling on the falls. Use the same strategy when you teach the most basic sports skills, and your child will have greater success - and, as a result, more fun.

And have more fun yourself - and be an even better father - by following the 10 New Commandments of Dad.

4. Instruct By Showing, Not Telling

Forget the phrase "Keep your eye on the ball." Why? Because the first time most kids hear it, they have no idea what you're talking about. "You can't just tell a young person who's learning a new skill what to do," says Liston. "You have to show him." Then let the child try it, reinforce what he did correctly, and repeat the entire process. That's because children need repetition in order to learn a new task and instill correct behaviors. Here are seven more tricks for raising kids like a man..

Apply this technique when you're teaching a child to hit a baseball:

  1. Stand a few feet away from the kid (who should be holding the bat, ready to swing) and tell him to look at the ball.
  2. Move toward him with the ball in your hand while continually instructing him to keep looking at the ball. This simple method teaches him to track the ball.
  3. When you approach the strike zone, tell him to slowly try to hit the ball with the bat.
  4. Now go back to the starting point, but this time toss the ball into the strike zone and allow him to swing at full speed.
  5. Review what the child did well and give instruction for improvement.
  6. Repeat the process, making sure he's consistently successful before you increase the difficulty by throwing the ball faster.

5. Remember to Peep Play Fun

Don't worry too much about the rules. "Making a game or activity too rigid is the best way to guarantee that a kid won't want to be active," says Liston. "Your job is to facilitate play, not dictate it." So if kids stop playing an organized game and start chasing a butterfly, just go with it. "As long as young kids are running, jumping, and having fun, they're improving their health and athletic ability."

It's also important to avoid embarrassing situations that can stick with a child. That means kids shouldn't pick their own team members, and no one should be made an example when learning a new skill. "The fewer negative experiences and the more enjoyment kids have," Liston says, "the more likely they are to continue to be active for a lifetime."

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