When you were growing up chances are you played a sport or two; maybe football, netball or even track and field. Sport has always been and always will be part of the Aussie lifestyle your children may be participating a sport.
Sport is easily accessible to children these days; it’s included in the school curriculum and it’s available as an after-school activity. But is sport for kids all it’s cracked up to be?
Love it or hate children’s sports are here to stay. While most people believe playing sport is great for kids, like most things, sport certainly does have some negatives.
Before we go any further I want to state from the outset I am not anti-sport. I thoroughly enjoy watching sport on TV, going to professional footy matches, and have played some sport myself in the past. I do however believe it’s important to discuss the other side of sport, not often talked about, to better educate you the parent.
My three biggest areas of concern when it comes to children’s sports are:
- Movement Specialization
- Extinguishing Play
- Sport for Fitness
When I talk about ‘movement specialization’ I’m referring to a sport that requires the same movement performed over and over again with little or no variation. Sports such as track running, many field events, road running as well as swimming would fall into this category. If you break down each of these sports, you’ll find they offer very little variation in the movement, which means you’re using the same body parts in the same way over and over again. In other words it’s extreme repetition.
This one dimensional movement can often lead to overuse injuries, tendonitis and even stress fractures. I talk about this from personal experience because when I was training to run the Gold Coast Marathon in 2010 constant monotonous movements caused some major issues with my body that took a very long time to recover from.
The body is designed to move in a huge variety of directions and plains and with various areas moving at the same time. Repetitive and limiting movements often performed in sport restricts the potential the body’s joints have and the movement they need to be strong, flexible, durable and healthy, especially for young body’s still developing and growing.
Due to the structured nature of sport it can very easily extinguish the idea of ‘play’. Training activities and commitments often replace play time; a crucial time for children to explore, create and move their bodies and minds in ever-changing ways. This lack of freedom and play time can hugely affect children’s mental development and create problems as they age. Children could easily be too tired after training to go outside and play for some fun and ‘downtime’ and therefore spend more time on their devices instead.
Another challenge faced with excessive training time is the lack of socializing options. Kids may be spending a lot of time with their team members, coach and training buddies and missing out on spending quality time with their current friends, or even opportunities to interact with new people and make new friends, which is important for their emotional well-being and social skill development.
Sports for Fitness
You could easily think that since sport is a physical activity it’d mean our children are becoming fitter and fitter by participating in it. Sadly though this isn’t the case and if it were, Aussie children would be losing weight and getting healthier instead of gaining weight and getting sicker.
The reality is the 1-hour of training and 1-hour of game time each week is not enough to improve a child’s health and fitness. They need physical activity every day! Couple this with the ‘Player of the Match Award’ often including a voucher for meals from fast food outlets such as McDonalds and KFC, or heading to these places after training and games as a ‘treat’ for playing well and all the hard work can easily be undone.
Is it really a positive thing to be teaching kids if they try hard or do well at sport they’ll be treated with junk food?
In my opinion, when it comes to deciding on a sport for a child to play the main attributes I’d be considering are:
- Is it fun? As in, truly fun for the child? Something they have an absolute ball (pardon the pun!) doing each week.
- Does it provide enough varied movements? Such as Rugby League, Soccer, AFL which include a wide variety of movements.
- What is the training schedule like? Is it too demanding and taking them away from important play and socializing time?
- Is it highly competitive? Competition is healthy, but when it gets too much for kids it can cause emotional stress and long-term issues.
- Is there time for the children to engage in free-play and to have downtime during the week also?
I hope this perspective helps you choose a suitable sport of activity for your child/children that will enhance and improve their health and well-being J
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