A fun, rounded approach to physical exercise is the key to lifelong wellbeing
Last week I was speaking with a friend whose goddaughter had reached the lower echelons of the junior GB swimming team. She was a brilliant swimmer, but she simply wasn’t brilliant enough and eventually the realisation dawned that 12th best in the country – good as it was - was a long way from any podium. It all came crashing down when she was 15. Competition – and the need to be better than she felt she could ever be - had taken the spark out of her sporting experience and in the seven years since she’s swum just once.
Not playing ball
According to the US National Alliance for Youth Sports around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organised sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.” CNN reports football coach John O’Sullivan as saying “it’s time to put the ‘play’ back in play ball.” Last year, The Irish Times ran an article entitled: “Over-competition in sport is bad for children’s mental health.”
The 3D approach to activity
This post isn’t a rant against competitive sport. Some children thrive on it. But for others, the over dependence on competition and the belief that elite sport is the only sport that really counts is proving damaging.
In contrast, taking a broader, more holistic approach to physical exercise can have long lasting benefits. New research shows exercise in childhood can have a protective effect in later years. it boosts brain power and cognitive development. And whilst competitive sport can risk emotional harm in those not suited to it, a ‘3D’ approach to physical wellbeing can protect mental wellbeing for life.
Crucially, not one of the studies above requires the physical activity to be elitist or competitive. It’s fine to have a go. It’s ok to not be great at it. It’s definitely ok to have fun while doing it. And once that feeling of fun is there – and so long as it isn’t removed again by hours of training on/in the track, rink, pitch or pool – it’s far more likely to stay.
The sport that really counts
I get immensely protective of the children at The Little Gym when I hear the odd aside about ‘real sport’ or when I hear the physical activity we undertake is ‘recreational’ (as if that’s a bad thing).
As the data increasingly shows, increasing the fun and removing the stress are the ways to get most children (and most adults for that matter) enthused about exercise. True, we don’t focus on developing the next generation of Olympians, it doesn't mean either that we won't. What we do focus on is to develop alert, confident, well-adjusted and healthy people who no longer need to feel terrified, rejected or let down by sport.
I’d say that’s a goal worth pursuing.
Want to give your child a lifelong love of physical activity, without the stress? Give me a call on 01483 343 000.