From tennis to triathlons, many families enjoy exercise together

Children have an uncanny way of doing as their parents do, rather than as they say.

Which means the best way to encourage your children to grow up with a healthy lifestyle is to practice one yourself. And as long as you're doing that, why not take one extra step and find a sport that you can all do together?

That's what the Kamdems of Bedford, Texas, the Koeppes of McKinney, Texas, and the Hardemans of Murphy, Texas, have done. And not only has it made them healthier, it's made them closer to one another, they say.

Their main piece of advice: Keep it fun.

Here's a look at how they do it, along with additional suggestions on the do's and don'ts of making a variety of sports work for the whole family.

'Let's have fun'

Nestor Kamdem, 43, treasures the time he spends with his family playing tennis. As a refugee who left Cameroon four years before his wife and children could join him in 2007, he knows what it is to be without his loved ones.

He had played tennis in Cameroon, but his undergraduate studies were in physics and chemistry. He wasn't sure at first what to pursue as a career when he arrived in America. But when he saw all the tennis courts and considered how his children loved the sport as he did, he got the idea to train to become a United States Tennis Association professional coach. He now teaches at Southlake Tennis Center.

"We're having a lot of fun. The kids really enjoy it," he says. "We go out at least twice a week to play."

His wife Beatrice, 37, plays recreationally with the family, while the children, Kevin, 11, Raillane, 10, and Joyce, 8, compete in tournaments.

Nestor Kamdem says the key to keeping it fun as a family is to focus on the joy of playing rather than the outcome. "Right away, I told them, 'Let's play tennis and have fun. Let's have fun and win, let's have fun and lose. Let's have fun no matter what happens.' That's how we are."

That doesn't mean he and the kids aren't competitive.

"We fight until the very last point. Even if we're down 5-0, I tell them you need to give your best to the last ball. And then when the game is over, it's over. I tell them to say, 'I did my best, I loved the match, it was fun and we will fight again.' The end of a match is not the end, it's the beginning of the next one."

Following her lead

Dallas Koeppe, 44, didn't introduce his kids to triathlons. His oldest, Christina, now 13, led the way for the family.

"My daughter did her first triathlon when she was 9," Koeppe says. "She was already jogging with me, but I didn't know how to swim. Within about a year or two after watching her do it, I got interested. I learned how to swim, and we've been doing it together for three years now."

Once Koeppe was on board, his son Zachary, 11, started competing, too. Koeppe's wife, Susan, 43, has yet to jump on the triathlon bandwagon, but she does bike and run with them. She's also in charge of getting their bikes to the races.

"You knock out two things at once -- you spend time with your kids and you get exercise," Dallas Koeppe says.

Zachary and Christina add that they enjoy talking with their parents as they train.

"We try to keep it positive," Dallas Koeppe says, noting that while many people at work tell him that kids pull away in their teen years, the triathlons have kept them close even as his daughter approaches her 14th birthday.

"When I get home from work, my daughter always wants to go running with me. We go running for 30 to 40 minutes, and she will talk nonstop. It's fantastic that she still thinks I'm a good guy and wants to spend time with me."

A matter of course

Royal Hardeman, 62, introduced his daughters to golf when they were 5 and 6. Now that they are in college, they still enjoy coming home and golfing with him at Pecan Hollow Golf Course in Plano.

"We have so much fun together when we're playing," Hardeman says. "We do a lot of laughing, we play games, we have fun. A lot of guys, I can see their envy in their eyes when they see us. We're a threesome, and it's something we enjoy doing."

His wife, Wanda, 44, works out with the family, too, and is supportive of the special time her husband spends with the girls on the golf course.

Ashley, 19, plays recreationally at Vanderbilt University.

Amber, 18, is playing on the competitive Dartmouth College team.

Royal Hardeman admits he got uptight when the girls played their first tournaments for their high schools. But he learned to get over that pretty quickly, he says.

"My advice is, 'Let the kids have fun,' " he said. "It is a big distraction for them when you're uptight. I've been to too many tournaments where the child makes a bad shot and the parent is all over them, and the kid is just torn up."

He says that's why he focuses on the closeness that comes from playing together. And that, he believes, is why the girls still enjoy playing with him. "We don't get worked up, we just let them go."

Choosing your activity

Marta Montenegro, founder, publisher and editor in chief of SOBeFiT Magazine, suggests sports that have an aerobic component for preteens or younger because strength is not yet fully developed. Some sports she recommends are:

Walking/running: If this is practiced in intervals, it can be beneficial for the parents and child to build aerobic capacity. Instead of keeping time, use physical signs such as "run to the next stop sign or stop at the yellow house on the corner."

Cycling: The next time the kids want to go for a smoothie, the whole family should jump on bikes and go at a slow pace.

Swimming: Compete with mom or dad in one-lap relays. This builds strength and endurance, and the children will feel great when they win.

Squats, push-ups and dips: These can be done in the back yard, at the park or inside while watching TV.