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Bring back the 80s: Why today’s child is less prepared for sport.

Childhood obesity on the rise, kids unprepared for sport

Childhood obesity

1985 heyday

In the news this week was the worrying fact that children as young as 7 are already becoming less active. The rise in childhood obesity can be seen in Primary schools. This trend can be seen since the 1980s and has an implication for sports coaches as well as parents.

Here are a few interesting stats on children playing gained from a Dutch colleague:

  • In 1985 the average child spent 30 hours per week playing outside. Today, that is just 5 hours.
  • So, over a year from ages 5-6 the 1985 child would have played outside for 1500 hours, today 250.
  • Over 10 years from ages 5-15, the difference accumulates from 15000 hours then to 2500 hours now.
  • So a 15 year old looking to take up sport today is already 12,250 hours behind their 1985 equivalent!

Source: Honore Hoedt (Netherlands)

What this means for parents

I keep banging the drum on this: let your kids play. Let them get dirty, fall down, get bruises and come home in tears sometimes. Let them make decisions for themselves and organise their own games.

They spend all day at school sitting down and being told what to do. They don’t need to come out of school and have yet another adult organise them every day of the week. Kids learn through trial and error, experimenting and from each other as well as from being coached.

Childhood obesity

Excelsior athletes of different ages

This includes trying to out run, out dribble or throw over the older kids. Most sports clubs are age restricted, so the kids are always with their own age groups. This limits what they can do.

Big kids regulate how they move around the smaller kids: they develop skill. They know that if they bosh the little ones, they won’t have anyone to play with next time.

What that means for sports coaches

This means that the general fitness of children, plus their ability to make decisions is less than it was 30 years ago. Yet, the assumption today is often that more specialised training is better, with better qualified coaches and “elite academies and “talent groups“.

Putting in specialised training without this general base means you are either likely to cause harm, or watch the kids fail because they are lacking skills.

You need to recognise this and put in elements of play, self direction and of course athletic development work because the kids are lacking this elsewhere.

Childhood obesity is an easily visible symptom, but the causes are more than just poor diet.

Further reading:

Physical Literacy and Athletic Development : The basic principles from Vern Gambetta.

The Talent ID Bun Fight : why NGBs are trying to get your child to specialise too early.

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