Participation in sports and group fitness activities has tremendous benefits for the physical, academic, and emotional health of children.
Everyone knows this, right?
It should be obvious, but what may not be is just how far-reaching these benefits can be when children have access to sports and fitness programs.
And, just as importantly, when kids don’t have access to these programs, the negative consequences are profound.
So, are we giving children the opportunities they need or are we falling behind?
Regular physical activity and participation in sports are associated with lower rates of obesity, greater bone density, increased cardiovascular fitness, improved coordination, and improved social and personal skills.
So, we know that sports and physical activity are great for kids.
But there’s a big catch:
Sports and fitness programs for kids and teens need to be accessible and include appropriate, high-quality instruction.
The most effective programs have to be accessible and also need to have certain qualities:
- Skill and general fitness development
- Time for adequate recovery
- Practices that promote injury avoidance
- Strategies for social development
- Age-appropriate levels of competition only
Moderate physical activity actually begins to decline in both boys and girls at the time they start elementary school. Sedentary behavior begins to increase at this time too, so elementary school age kids are already in need of interventions to maintain or increase their level of physical activity. (Reilly, 2016)
In general, kids are not being provided with adequate opportunities for general fitness and sports skills development.
Another problem is the competition level in youth sports. Sports become increasingly selective and competitive as children move into adolescence, so fewer activities exist for children who can’t or don’t want to compete at a higher level. And, children who specialize early are often under much more demanding time commitments and therefore miss out on social opportunities with peers and family. (Malina, 2009)
Overuse injuries and burnout are relatively common, especially among children on a continuous year-round schedule without diversification or downtime. Growing children between 8 and 14 are particularly susceptible to apophyseal injuries which occur between a major tendinous insertion and growth plate. These can occur at the heel (Sever’s disease), knee (Osgood-Schlatter’s disease), hip, and elbow and often occur during growth spurts. Amennorhea, an absence of menstruation, in girls is associated with a higher risk of stress fractures. (John DiFirori, 2014) (Adirim TA, 2003)
Most importantly, Equal access to sports and fitness is another major issue that needs to be addressed. Economic factors can severely limit a child’s access to adequate sports and fitness programs. Up to 20 percent of parents say they cannot afford the fees and equipment associated with school and club sports programs.