Does life always have to be a competition?
Digital Media Officer Corinne Pritchard writes about how
emphasising competitiveness can sometimes alienate kids from sport,
and investigates the alternatives.
14 August 2012
Formal school-based physical activity is really only a small part of the picture.
national debate about the importance of competitive sport in
schools is heating up, but there’s no doubt it’s bringing some
people - including me - out a cold sweat.
Trawling my own memories of school sport, it’s
the negatives that stand out – the fourth place that was really
third (tied) in the 100 metres (of course I was too fat to be a
real runner). The ball the teacher caught for me in a fiercely
competitive game of rounders, unimpressed with my previous attempts
at catching, or the obligatory relegation to the corner of the
field on sports day for discus – aka the ‘we don’t know what else
to do with you’ event.
A force for good
That’s not to say that competitive sport can’t
be a powerful force for good.
The teamwork and cooperation on the
football field, the thrill of leaving your comrades for dust on the
running track or the satisfaction of legitimately beating your
friends to a pulp in the name of boxing or judo can help instill a
genuine enjoyment for physical activity for many people, an
enjoyment which can continue throughout the rest of their
lives, potentially helping them stave off many debilitating
illnesses – including heart disease.
But two hours a week, or even a day, as the
Mayor of London has suggested, of formal school-based physical
activity is really only a small part of the picture. If we’re
going to successfully nip in the bud what is rapidly becoming a
major public health issue – childhood obesity – our vision for
British sport has to include more than the track and field stars of
We need every child in Britain doing a minimum
of 60 minutes a day - as the current UK Physical Activity
Keeping health in mind
Our research shows
that 8 out of 10 children think they need to do less than the
recommended 60 minutes. And for increasingly busy parents this can
seem like a difficult target to achieve. I asked one of our cardiac
nurses, Natasha Stewart to break it down for me:
From dancing round the living room to jujitsu lessons, it all adds up.
“Sixty minutes seems like a lot of time, but
the truth is it doesn’t have to be all at once. Six ten-minute
slots will do the trick just as well. Add together a brisk walk to
and from school, a half hour trip to the swimming pool and running
after a ball with Dad in the park after school and you get there
“And if your child isn’t the outdoorsy type or
doesn’t get on with traditional sports, encourage them to explore
what’s out there – from dancing round the living room to jujitsu
lessons, it all adds up.”
kids face bigger challenges when it comes to taking up exercise. I
recently met with Charlie Mott, 17, from Torquay in Devon at a
British Heart Foundation event.
He told me the disabling asthma attacks he
suffered since he was a young boy prevented him from taking part in
school sport. But nearly four years ago he hit upon a great way to
exercise – outside of school - which not only helped him overcome
this disabling condition, but helped him in the classroom too:
“Taking up rowing has made a real positive
change in me over the last four years. I used to have to use the
strongest asthma inhaler morning and night, and now the fitness
I’ve gained has almost eliminated all possibility of another
serious asthma attack.
“Finding a sport I click with has also really
helped me focus mentally – which was really important for my
A-levels this year!”
Charlie says that while he won’t necessarily
be looking to continue rowing at University as it’s not always
available, but this experience has given him valuable insight into
how exercise can be fun, as well as helping live life to the full –
and he hopes to take up new sports in the future.
The real Olympic legacy we need to pass on to
today’s children and young people is that physical activity should
be a crucial part of your everyday life. It doesn’t matter who you
are – rich or poor, young or old – or what resources you have
available, you can find activities you enjoy that help your
reach the recommend target. We're aiming for 60 minutes a day
for children, and 150 minutes a week for adults.
Whether it’s a competitive or team sport,
going to the gym, using a treadmill or exercise bike in your living
room, yoga, hiking, rock climbing or even bhangra dancing, just go
for it – then try and make it a regular habit throughout your
It took me 27 years to find the right exercise
for me, and of all things it turned out to be Lindy Hop dancing. So
while I’m still not all that in the fitness stakes, my passion
for dance has got me running three times a week - just to get
better at something I love.
Don’t let it take your kids that long!