Wednesday 24 January 2018

Our kids miss out on heart-pounding thrills if we run away from the issue

Stock picture
Stock picture

Fiona Ness

Five hundred GAA coaches can't be wrong. "Amazing," an Ogra coach commented recently, as he watched our girls sprint up and down the pitch, "to see a kid that can actually run".

While there have always been children who aren't sporty, this man was talking about children who would like to run, but don't know how. GAA coaches up and down the country, he said, are concerned.

At the local scout troop where I volunteer, we spent a recent summer evening teaching six- to-nine year olds how to play skipping ropes. How could they have gotten to this age without knowing the thrill of it? They didn't know. I didn't know either.

During the summer, my oldest daughter was bored. I handed her two tennis balls. "Propel these against the wall until you can keep them going seamlessly, at speed. Sing rhymes. You will become hooked. You will never be bored again." She went outside and I locked the door.

Surely running, jumping and catching are part of our physical DNA? And surely most children learn these skills early, because children are real, live Duracell bunnies, pushing the boundaries of the new bodies with which they have been gifted and which offer so many possibilities?

But no. A leading expert is warning children as old as 12 are unable to run, jump, throw, catch or even hit any type of sports ball properly due to inactivity. Their motor skills are so bad, he says, they exercise as if they are in their 30s. Meanwhile, surveys highlight the growing inactivity of today's children and cite screen time and hectic family lifestyles as barriers to exercise and fitness in children.

You might call it pathetic to be looking back through rose-coloured glasses to a time when children played out on the road with skipping ropes, tennis balls and footballs, but there is just something so jaw-droppingly awful that we have neutered our children's very physicality in one generation.

Part of the problem is fear. We fear the risk of letting our kids do physical things. Part of it is time. Part of it is laziness. And part of it is that parents are obsessed with equipping children with digital skills. Ironically, a digital world makes the development of physical skills even more important. New research suggests that active play outside wires the brain in a way that helps children develop concepts central to science, engineering and technology.

As I write, my youngest son is edging his way along the narrow spine of the couch. At three he is, in my eyes, a gymnast. There is a moment where it could all go horribly A&E. But he gets to the end and makes a perfect dismount. Do I scream at him never to do it again? Do I rail that he is ruining the furniture?

Neither. I applaud. He takes a bow. Five hundred GAA coaches can't be wrong.

Irish Independent

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