There are reasons why we, as parents, should encourage our kids to play sports. The statistics are frightening. When you think of Australia, you think wide open spaces with kids outside all the time, right? You’d be surprised to learn that many kids under the age of twelve are spending double the amount of time indoors, and in front of a screen, when compared to playing outdoors. Recent studies have found a disturbing trend, with children preferring to opt for a sedentary lifestyle over an active one.
But is it the kids fault or is it a responsibility of the parents?
I did some searching for this article and found some research from The Nature Conservancy that said only about 10% of 602 kids between the ages of 13 and 18 that were polled are spending time outdoors every day. (source)
There was a wide range of reasons why these kids did not spend more time outside, but these were the top three reasons:
- 80% said it was too uncomfortable to be outdoors due to things like bugs and heat (no argument there!)
- 62% said that they did not have transportation to “natural areas”
- 61% said that there were no “natural areas” near their homes
HEAT, LACK OF ACCESS OR INTEREST—AND EVEN OBESITY—KEEP KIDS INSIDE
In one of the more surprising results, pollsters found that, among youth whose body mass index classifies them as obese, there are notably lower rates of participation in outdoor activities and less interest in pursuing them in the future.
This comes as no surprise for thousands of parents who regularly see their kids huddled in the living room focused on TV, a gaming console or their phone. What is less apparent is the potential side-effects of this type of behavior and its effect on our children.
While the health benefits of regular exercise and sport are well documented and discussed at length by experts, there are a number of other benefits that are less commonly discussed which include mental well-being, development of character and social interaction.
Weight Gain and Reduced Fitness Levels
Obesity is rapidly becoming the number one health issue among children in several countries, with a steady rise in cases recorded – especially among boys – from the 1990s.
A lack of physical activity can lead to obesity, especially if it’s combined with increased food, drink intake and overall poor nutrition. Experts believe that even a few extra hours of sport a week can help to combat weight gain and increase fitness levels among young children and teenagers.
Bone and Muscle Development
Exercise and weight bearing movement in general – such as running, walking and swimming – is a critical element in the development of strong bones and muscles. The levels of development we experience in our early and later teens can set us up for life.
Healthy bones and muscles can help protect us against the worst effects of disease and aging too. Children who miss out on appropriate levels of activity during puberty can be more prone to injuries and even diseases such as osteoporosis later in life.
Another benefit to kids playing outdoors is their intake of vitamin D from the sun. The body is able to better absorb calcium if it has higher levels of vitamin D, and calcium is critical for healthy, strong bones. Tre is on prescription vitamin D because his levels were that low – and this is the kid who spends at least three to four hours outside every single day.
While any activity is good for children, sports that can be played outdoors in the sun (with appropriate sun protection) is considered to be better.
Well-Being and Mood
Apart from the health benefits, there are mental benefits to regular sport for children because of the endorphins released while exercising and using muscles. Endorphins are nature’s version of ‘happy pills’, giving us a feeling of well-being and contentment. When Jonathan is able to play basketball for a few hours a day, he’s much more relaxed and happy and makes much better choices than those days when he is not able to play.
Kids who play sports can also gain greatly in self-confidence, especially if they can feel that they’re progressing through hard work or overcoming challenges. Puberty can be a difficult time for any child, so having an outlet in a regular sport can help them to release any built up frustrations or tension they’re feeling in a safe and secure environment.
Forming Good Habits
Playing sports can help kids develop good habits, ones that will benefit them right throughout their adult lives.
Organized sports in particular require a high degree of discipline, and no matter the activity, kids are expected to show up for regular game day matches which helps to form good habits with their exercise and helps teach them to be accountable and on time.
They will also usually be involved in practice or training activities, which will help them to develop their skills and work on areas for improvement.
Lastly, we all want our children to have friends and fit in at school, and sports can help them to develop their social skills, improve fitness and make new friends.
Sport and particular organized team sports can introduce your child to a new social group, and teach them to become better communicators, to learn how to organize groups and leadership techniques.
It’s also been found that sport can help with problem solving and even creativity. Healthy and positive social interaction among children will give them the foundations to grow into highly functioning and team-orientated adults.
If you’re looking to get your child involved in sports these school holidays, there are many different ways to get them involved. Almost every town in every country has several summer sports camps available. If you live in the Melbourne area, check out Australian Sports Camps programs here – https://australiansportscamps.com.au/school-holiday-programs/melbourne/. There are great ideas and camps available to get your kids off that couch and outdoors and active. The only thing that you need to do – mom and dad – is find them and get your kids involved!