(credit: Thinkstock)

(credit: Thinkstock)

Obesity is becoming one of America’s fastest growing health threats and is afflicting children at progressively younger ages. In today’s fast food and video games society, parents may be at a loss for ways to keep their children from turning into couch potatoes. Laura Giancarlo is a former gymnast who has taught physical education, martial arts and currently teaches at Dr. John Long Middle School in Wesley Chapel. She is worried that in today’s wired environment, kids are more used to “watching” than “doing.” Even if your kids seem hard-wired to their video games, Laura says not all is lost. “If that is the case, there are several computer games that involve being physical such as Wii Fit, NFL Training camp workout, Zumba and Dance Central. There are even videos on Youtube that kids can view that would help keep them active.” If you’re still determined to get the kids into more traditional ways of getting fit, Laura has some ideas to help.

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Goal Line Sports

5824 W. Linebaugh Ave.
Tampa, FL 33624
(813) 402-2930

One of Tampa’s newest sports venues, Goal Line Sports is designed to combine the best of the “go out and play” ethic with the climate-controlled comfort of a new indoor facility just east of the Veteran’s Expressway on West Linebaugh Avenue. If you’re not sure how you’re child will like soccer, there are birthday party packages available that will give everyone a chance to have a field to themselves and get introduced to the game in a low-pressure environment. Parties packages start at $295 for up to 15 kids with plenty of food to go along with the exercise.

Tae Kwon Do (Credit, Mike Hennessy)

Yung Ho Martial Arts Center
1303 E. Busch Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33612
(813) 935-8888

A martial artist herself, Laura enthusiastically supports getting children involved with this activity. The sport known as Tae Kwon Do has its roots in Korea and since its introduction in the US some five decades ago, it has become one of the leading disciplines for people of all ages. Tae Kwon Do’s flashy kicks helped it gain popularity and it has recently become an Olympic sport, offering a chance for elite performers to travel around the world and represent their country. Tae Kwon Do’s emphasis on developing speed, strength and balance will help any dedicated student gain fitness and self-discipline.

Quest Martial Arts
15049 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33647
(813) 971-5545

While Laura supports involving children in martial arts of all sorts, some are a better fit for some children than others. The art of To Shin Do as taught at the Quest Center in Tampa is a unique system that may appeal to youngsters who might be intimidated by the physical demands of Tae Kwon Do. Derived from the martial arts developed by Japan’s famed Ninja warriors, To Shin Do teaches practical self-defense that does not depend on strength, speed or athletic ability. Children as young as five years old can benefit from the training that will keep them active while teaching them the benefits of self-discipline and goal setting. 

Little League Tee Ball (Credit, Mike Hennessey)

Lutz Little League
770 Lutz Lake Fern Road
Lutz, FL 33548
(813) 949-7757

Little League baseball offers boys and girls as young as five a chance to learn the fundamentals of the sport and teamwork in a non-competitive environment. The Lutz Little League has been operating for some 30 years and offers a chance for year-round play with a fall schedule of games at times when kids “up north” are breaking out the shovels and ice skates. The Lutz Little League fields are part of the Oscar Cooler Sports Complex on Lutz Lake Fern Road between U.S. 41 and Dale Mabry Highway.

Flatwoods Park
14302 Morris Bridge Road
Thonotosassa, FL 33592
(813) 987-6211

Laura Giancarlo notes, with some dismay, that when she takes her students outdoors, some of them react as though sunshine and wooded areas are foreign experiences. However, there are plenty of places amid the Tampa Bay area’s urban sprawl where everyone can be exposed to nature in small or large doses. One example is Flatwoods Park. With entrances on both Morris Bridge Road and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in New Tampa, Flatwoods offers a paved hiking and bicycle trail that presents a chance to get to know Florida’s woodlands in exchange for a $2 admission fee. As Laura notes, picking a specific activity for your child is not as important as establishing physical activity as part of their normal lifestyle. The benefits of an early start can last a lifetime.

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Mike Hennessy is a veteran news man who has won Florida AP awards for feature reporting and covered almost every kind of story imaginable from on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Andrew, to some of the highest profile murder and corruption trials in Florida history. Mike is versatile and has the curiosity it takes to get to the bottom line of any story. His work can be found at Examiner.com.