Robert FitzSimmons, Advice to Parents for the Health and Rearing of Their Children (1901)

“How can I train my child so he will grow up to be an athlete?”

This is a question which I am asked con­stantly. At the outset I want to say to both fathers and mothers who put this question to me—Don’t.

By this don’t I mean do not start out with the idea that you want to make an athlete of your boy.

Just so sure as this plan is pursued you will overwork him in his tender years and end by sending him to an early grave. But do start out to make of him a big, strong, healthy child who will grow into a fine, manly man, and his athletic bent will follow in the natural course of events.

Too much training for the young bones and muscles is far more harmful than too little.

If a child gets no exercises for the muscles there is a chance for him to make up for this neglect when he grows up. lf he gets too much, and his weak little muscles are strained and his supple bones warped, he can never fully recover.

Double Strain Weakens

It must be remembered that a child’s brain is growing even more rapidly than its body. This is a strain on its system, but a certain amount of healthy exercise will help it to stand this strain. Too much exercise will add to the strain. This double strain will end by weakening the entire system.

There is nothing that can be so easily trained as the muscles of a child. The muscles and bones are both soft and pliable. They can be moulded like so much putty. See that they are moulded the right way.

There is not a day passes that I do not have a romp with my little son. I also put him through a regular, daily course of exercise. I instruct him in gymnastic movements that will tend to make him supple in every joint. At the same time the tiny muscles are slowly but surely building up on his little limbs and body. That is the way they should be formed —slowly—almost as slowly as the wearing away of a rock by the waves of the ocean.

Do Not Start Too Soon

Another point which should be carefully followed is not to start too early to train your children. just so sure as you do you will put some strain upon them that their young bodies cannot endure. And then they are permanently incapacitated. All the bright hopes of making a man among men of your boy are spoiled by undue haste to make a youthful wonder of him.

When your boys, and your girls, too, for that matter, are just able to toddle around, the best thing you can do is to see that they are kept outdoors as much as possible.

Children cannot get too much fresh air.

Get them up early in tl1e morning and send them out into the fresh air. Even if you live in the city, keep them outdoors when the weather permits.

Better to have them dirty and healthy than clean and sickly.

When to Use Gymnastics.

Follow the foregoing plan, and then when you think that the children are able to stand a certain amount of simple exercise commence to put them through their gymnastics every morning and night.

They will grow strong: they cannot help it if you will follow the above rules.

Bear in mind that your children must have plenty of fresh air, and moderate, regular exercise, and they will grow up to be men and women of whom you may be proud.

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