Focus on fun and basic skills the key to staying active
BY SOREN ELSAY
Less time exercising thumbs, more time running around: that’s what today’s youth need, according to Michael McLenaghen. With a successful professional soccer career, including eight international games for the Canadian Men’s National team behind him, McLenaghen is now the director of community services at the Collingwood Neighbourhood House where he oversees numerous sports-related activities for the children of the area.
“Young people are spending way too much time online, watching television and staying inside,” states McLenaghen.
His claims are not without reason. A recent Health Canada study showed that more than 30 percent of Canadian kids ages five to 17 were overweight, nearly double the average 30 years ago. Much of this has to do with kids not being physically active enough. Statistics Canada research shows that children spend on average almost nine hours a day being inactive, which equates to about 62 percent of their waking hours. A shift in the way we present and promote physical activity, particularly sport, is desperately needed. The man with a vision for this change is Mike McLenaghen.
For McLenaghen, the problem starts when kids are first enrolled into sports and recreation by their parents, usually around age five or six. He believes that kids should not be placed in teams and pitted against each other until age nine at least; instead we should be focusing on fun and the basics like developing ball skills.
“I think that young people need to be channelled into recreation and sporting activities where they learn basic movement skills,” says McLenaghen.
These basic skills include hand-eye coordination, jumping, kicking and rolling, and, according to McLenaghen, are best developed through a range of activities anywhere from gymnastics and dance to simple games such as kick the can and tag.
“From there you can channel kids into various sports such as hockey, soccer, baseball, but again the emphasis needs to be on their relation with the ball, the stick and puck or whatever it may be,” McLenaghen explains.
When we get away from fun and basics and incorporate competition and a lot of structure too early, or as McLenaghen put it, “channeling kids into adult models of sport,” we start running into the problem of kids quitting. McLenaghen points out that 60 percent of boys and girls who started playing sports at age five or six have quit by the time they are 14 years old.
“There is too much pressure, too much emphasis on competition, uniforms, trophies. Not enough emphasis on kids having fun, being creative and developing skills,” says McLenaghen. “Because if kids feel like they are going from [one level of skill to the next], and they keep progressing and getting better, they’re not going to quit. Kids don’t quit things that they get better at.”
McLenaghen also points out that some of the most beneficial activities that kids participate in are not organized by adults at all. For example, impromptu games of tag or pick-up basketball with friends allow them to use their own initiative and creativity as well as stay active.
“The value of unstructured play, I can’t over-emphasize that enough,” states McLeneghan. “It doesn’t need to come down to structured, organized recreation and sport activity all the time, and I think it’s a huge problem as well. We are structuring kids to death, and they get fed up with it.”
With new technology seemingly coming out daily, staying inside and playing with new gadgets is as tempting as ever. For McLenaghen’s vision to become a reality, parents, community leaders and children themselves must be proactive (see Mike’s Tips below). With a bit of help, McLenaghen hopes that youth will want to get up and, as every mom used to say, “Go out and play.”
Mike’s Tips for Parents to Get Their Kids Active
- Do research: Finding the right situation and people is crucial. “Make the effort to go out and find not just good coaches in sport, but good leaders and good teachers.”
- Set limits: Parents should closely monitor how much time their children are spending online. “TV, iPhones, iPads, computers, all of it. [Parents] need to be tough, set clear boundaries for the kids.”
- After-school programs: 3:00 to 5:00 pm is a key time for keeping kids active because this is the time usually that kids are getting off school but parents are still at work. “[The children] go home, they are [roughly] 12 years old, and they do whatever, play video games and those kinds of things. It’s not that you have to have all of the[children’s] time structured, but at times like after school they need some support, and it needs to be quality support.”
- Check out local programs that provide a safe place for kids to be active: “Collingwood Neighbourhood House provides great gymnastics and dance programs for children right down from two years old all the way up to 12 years old. As well as a number of sport activities like soccer, basketball, floor hockey.”
Soren Elsay is a Langara student and an aspiring journalist.
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