Competitive sport is important for kids, but skill development is at the heart of success

Competitive sport is important for kids, but skill development is at the heart of success

A recent article in the Guardian cited a survey which found that over half of primary schools sports days are non-competitive. As the parent of a three-year old who cannot cope with losing (cue major 30-minute meltdown if she’s the last one to put on her shoes) I can really see the appeal.  But I’m also acutely aware of how important is it that she learns to lose and that she learns to compete and finish a task regardless of the outcome.

In general terms, competitive sport teaches children a huge amount about sportsmanship and conduct – valuable life skills both on and off the pitch. At my daughter’s school, they place a great deal of emphasis on good sporting behaviour and representing the school in the best possible way. The children must thank the players, the umpires and the coaches, and helping with match teas, enjoyed with the visiting team, is almost as important as the game itself.

A new survey from Public Health England and Disney found that the number of children doing an hour of exercise a day falls by nearly 40% between the ages of five and 12.  Quoting directly from an article on the BBC “Not being very good” was cited by many children as the reason they did not take part in some physical activities, with older children more likely to be self-conscious than their younger counterparts: 29% of 11-year-olds compared with 17% of five-year-olds.

I get it. I get the argument that if we label our kids as weak at sport, they will shy away from it. But in what other discipline do we say it’s OK not to do something if you’re not good at it? Rubbish at maths? Don’t worry, do art instead! Kids are graded on class work, scored on tests and in many schools still placed in different classes based on academic ability. What we should be doing is focusing more on giving our children the skills they need to perform at sport at a young age.

Helping kids to develop better body awareness and better basic skills like running, jumping, throwing, catching and kicking will give them the building blocks to competently play sport without feeling embarrassed.  They might never be the best athlete in the class but they will have the skills to enjoy sport, regardless of the outcome. If we continue to blame sports day, and ignore the fundamentals of the components of fitness, we are setting all kids bar the naturally sporty ones up to fail, perpetuating the cycle.

It’s great to hear that one major organisation is finally standing up for team sports….

Everyone Active, a leisure operator managing over 150 UK leisure centres, is putting their weight behind team sports. Starting with high-level netball and hockey partnerships, Everyone Active is standing up for sports, and aims to get thousands of children taking part.

There has been recent backlash against school sports – particularly team sports – and how they can result in less naturally-athletic youngsters feeling disengaged, experiencing lower self-esteem and developing a dislike for exercise.

The operator aims to combat this by encouraging all young people, regardless of ability, to benefit from the positive attributes that sport can bestow. As well as balance, body-awareness, co-ordination, agility, speed and power, sport can help youngsters to develop skills that will help them in all walks of life, such as team working and continued commitment.

An alliance with Super League Netball team, Hertfordshire Mavericks, aims to get 20,000 girls and young women partaking in netball over the next three years. A partnership with Olympic gold medallist, England & Great Britain Hockey captain Alex Danson has pledged to get 10,000 children aged 7 – 11 engaged in the sport in the same timeframe.

Everyone Active will be launching the Alex Danson Hockey Academy into 500 primary schools nationwide and their coaches will upskill teachers so they can continue to deliver quality hockey sessions outside of the academy.  The operator will also host 100 hockey camps across their centres nationwide.

Though these academies, those with less natural competency in sports will benefit from practicing core skills, finding an activity they enjoy and keeping sports fun, while those who excel will have a clear pathway of progression.