In America many kids, as well as their parents, are turned off by the seriousness of youth sports, said Tom Cove, president and chief executive of Sports and Fitness Industry Association, in a recent interview with The Washington Post.
“What should be play becomes work. Sometimes we lose the most essential element of sports: fun,” he said.
The level of competitiveness and the risk of injury seems to have put some families off.
Local expert Dr Glen Hagemann, a sports physician with the Sharks Medical Centre, says traditional school sports are not necessarily less popular although there may be a decline in participation in sports like athletics and cricket, “but other sports like rugby, soccer, netball and hockey are still strong and in some cases growing”.
“Globally children and adolescents are becoming less active, and this, combined with poor eating habits, has led to an obesity epidemic. Participating in organised sport for an hour or two a few days a week, and being sedentary for the rest of the time, is not enough to remain healthy,” Hagemann says.
Cape Town-based biokineticist Marvin Jacobs tends to agree, saying that many children aren’t encouraged by parents and schools to try out for field and ball sports.
“A lot of the time they don’t have role models in sport and they see this notion as being uncool. And parents are constantly working, so kids are left to their own devices.”
He also points out that overtly academic schools may not be sports-orientated – if a child finds they are passionate about something, they have to go at it alone. It’s best to aim for a school that offers a healthy balance between the two.”
The City of Cape Town’s Recreation and Parks Department has partnered with Western Province Schools Water Polo to create the Retreat Water Polo Programme.
City media representative Melissa Heyes told the Cape Argus: “The aim is to get more people involved. Most people don’t know about water polo. The programme is free and aimed at youth between the ages of eight and 18.”
Future plans include expanding the programme to other communities in the Western Cape.
Birdwood, a remedial primary school in Durban, offers physical education as part of the CAPS curriculum. This usually involves something like a team sport (for example, mini-cricket) or sometimes obstacle courses to help with motor planning and spatial awareness, says Birdwood’s therapeutic manager, Justine Schapers.
Schapers stressed the importance of activities such as yoga in a remedial setting.
“Yoga also assists children who are often overstimulated to find a calming space to introspect and modulate and contain their thoughts and feelings,” she says.
But Schapers also observed that today’s kids are being bombarded with over-scheduling of extra-mural activities which in turn could cause over-stimulation.
Non-traditional activities such as yoga also encourage children to make the “mind-body connection” which leads to a greater sense of self-awareness. “Achieving yoga poses assists in building self-confidence and instils an ‘I can do’ attitude in children,” she adds.
Play therapy, such as obstacle courses, is a great way of developing gross motor, fine motor and visual perceptual skills. “If the activity involves catching and throwing, various visual perception skills like hand-eye co-ordination, visual closure and spatial awareness would be enhanced,” concludes Schapers.
Whether it’s a yoga pose or trying to clear an obstacle course, these types of games make it easier for children to set their own goals without pressure to compete.
Hagemann does suggest other forms of sports to keep children active such as surfing, body-boarding, canoeing, skate-boarding, mountain biking, trail running, golf, triathlon, gym and touch rugby.
“Families can participate in many of these sports, and participation is more likely to be lifelong than the traditional school sports. They can also offer an escape from the competitive and sometimes pressured environment of traditional sports for those who want it,” he adds.