Evidence based report's suggest that about 25% of people in Britain (NHS 2008) and Ireland (OECD 2010) are obese with levels of growth estimated at about 1% per annum. It indicates a drastic rise from 1993 levels, when just 13 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women reported to be obese. Scarily, huge volumes of 4-5 year old children (24.5%) in Britain (NHS) reported to be obese in 2008. This does not account for the massive population of children that are just overweight, not yet obese but will be by the time they reach adulthood. If the growth rate continues at the present pace, over 50% of people in these countries will be obese by 2050.
Simultaneously, there is a huge increase in drop out rate from sport among adolescents. According to recent studies, 45% of ten year old boys participate in sports. By the age of eighteen only 26% of them stay active. An overview of youth sports carried out in the USA showed that dropout is well under way at age ten and peaks at 14-15. Similar results were found across a range of ten different sports.
Sport England research suggests that in all sports, almost half as many 16 – 24 year old women take part in sport as men of the same age while only 15% of girls aged 15 in the UK meet recommended daily physical activity levels. The research points out that those who don't drop out of sport say they feel a powerful sense of belonging and list friends, fun and socialisation factor, team spirit, coach and parental support as additional reasons to stay involved in sport.
Some of the reasons given for dropout from sport included
Bearing all of the aforementioned in mind, physical activity, sport and exercise is increasingly important and is emphasised by Twisk et al (1997), who found that long-term exposure to daily physical activity was inversely related to body fatness. Essentially, outdoor fun and games, physical activity and sport offers a lot more than enjoyment value for children given it's potential impact on a nations health.
As such, the child’s early experience in sport is critical for their ongoing development and retention in physical activity and sport involvement. If the experience is positive, the child will be more likely to continue participating. If the experience is overly negative, the child may drop out and lose interest in the sport or physical activity.
Therefore, the importance of the role of the parent in helping and facilitating their child's involvement in sport cannot be under-emphasised. It is crucial for both the child's self development and health development that they are supported appropriately so that they continue their involvement in sporting activity for as long as possible. Given the nature of the reduction in out-door free play, a parent's role in sport promotion is now more important than ever.
However, many parent's often get overly pushy and competitive when it comes to their child's involvement - so much so that some even have to be restrained from remonstrating with referees and sometimes, even their own children, at underage matches. Recently, after some significant incidents at underage soccer matches in Ireland, the head of the football referees association (soccer) said on national radio, that they were struggling to hold on to referees for underage games, such is the level of abuse that some are subjected to on Saturday mornings.
Yet international best practice suggests young players learn more, and perform better, when parents aren’t there at all. Rightly or wrongly, many elite clubs, Manchester United and Chelsea included, ban parents from games until their mid-teens to prevent against this.
Recent initiatives such as "Silent Sideline Weekends" have been tried to try and reduce levels of abuse and create awareness of the value of affording the children the space to freely express themselves on the pitch. The concept has been brought in to replicate similar initiatives in the US and the UK. Parent's screaming and shouting only invades a child’s playtime as adults look to re-live their youth vicariously through their children. A children’s pitch is essentially a playground and sometimes, if adults acted in a similar way in a playground, the guards (police) could be called. The idea with the silent sideline weekend is just to let the kids play, to let them make decisions and mistakes by themselves without parents shouting at them.
Coaches also regularly report incidents of abuse in their direction as parents of their teams seek to remonstrate with them over their selection policies (good bad or indifferent) and this can also cause needless trouble along the Saturday morning sidelines!
So let's learn from the experts - the kids themselves. Let's see what it is that they want from their sport and us (the parents), as supporters of them in their sport. Let's create awareness of this issue by talking about it, so that they (our children) can enjoy their sport for the right reasons and fulfill their potential in their chosen sports, whatever they may be!
The following is a recent video developed by the Arsenal academy and is informed by the actual thoughts of young academy players!
Unleash Your Potential
Keith Begley is an accredited performance psychologist with the Sport Ireland Institute.
Find us on Facebook: Performance Psychology Ireland
https://twitter.com/KeithBegley @Keith Begley
Let the Kids Play
He stands there in his jersey,
fulfilling all his dreams,
Representing club and family,
and he is on the team.
The ball thrown in, the game is on,
there is movement all around,
some parents shouting frantically,
as the ball’s played up and down.
The game is moving quickly,
the boy giving his all,
He is moving into spaces,
but can’t get on the ball,
He stays running and tackling,
he is trying very hard,
Somehow, the ball never falls his way,
for all his running yards
Eventually it comes his way,
he sees it coming in.
He’s on his own, a perfect chance,
to score a goal and win.
Oh no, he mis-controls the ball,
it’s now gone from his grasp.
Parents groaning, some giving out
that he's has missed a great goal chance
One man pipes up and calls him out,
singles the boy out from the crowd,
“Come on to hell Coach, take him off”,
he hollers from the side.
The boy’s heart sinks, he has done his best,
he thought he was doing well.
Why is this man being so unkind,
he’s just here to play with friends.
It’s only a game to be enjoyed,
who cares who wins in the end?
He’s only a kid, just turned ten
and playing under twelve.
Sport, he thinks shouldn’t feel like this,
he plays it just for fun,
But when adults grab a hold of it,
sometimes this is all undone.
So just let them play and let them fly,
and let them just enjoy.
Kid’s sport is not for adult's needs,
for we have had our time!
Performance psychologist - accredited with Irish Institute of Sport