On the run
Olympic medallist and sport consultant Roisin McGettigan is urging parents to get active with their kids
ATHLETE Roisin McGettigan has joined forces with GloHealth to promote its sponsorship of Irish Schools' Athletics, which includes the full competitive programme from regional and provincial to national levels. However, she says parents can begin to foster a love of exercise in their children long before secondary school.
"So much research shows the benefits of sports biologically. It keeps you fit but it also has neurological benefits," says McGettigan.
"Research shows it primes your brain for learning better. It helps brain cells develop. It helps with attention, memory and alertness, all the things you need for school. It's important to promote exercise and sport for kids, especially when they're in school."
Recent Irish research, carried out by the Irish Sports Council, Dublin City University, University of Limerick and University College Cork, showed that physical activity reduces depression and anxiety (especially in shy children), enhances mood, personal confidence, psychological resilience, management of emotions, self-esteem and quality of life.
For parents with younger children, McGettigan encourages finding the right balance for your family.
"When they're younger keep any sport fun orientated. Let them explore different sports and try different things without serious competitiveness. If they want to get into a competitive sport, leave that until they are teenagers," she says.
Sporting activities can include everything from athletics to dance to swimming. McGettigan says it's important not to overload your child with activities.
"You shouldn't force your kids to do the activity you want them to do. For them to stick with a sport and have a lifelong passion for it, they need to find it themselves."
Girls must have positive role models both in the sporting world and at home, according to McGettigan.
"We are lucky in Ireland because we have great sporting role models. I have heard that by exercising themselves parents can reinforce behaviours, and I know my three year old cheers me on when I go for runs."
McGettigan is mum to two girls, a three year old and a 10 month old. She expressed her fears that young teens, especially girls, often drop out of sport.
"Ask 10-year-old girls do they like running or sport, and they'll put their hands up, but if you ask 14-year-old girls, only a small number put their hands up. There is an incredible drop-off with the onset of adolescence."
The best time for girls to be involved in sports, teams and friendship is when they are teens, says McGettigan.
"Involvement in sports can offset worry about body image and help with emotional regulation and confidence."
McGettigan got involved in sports when she took part in the local community games in Wicklow as a young teen. From there, she joined the local athletics club, and before long was competing in races, specialising in the 3,000 metres steeplechase. She competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and in 2009 came fourth in the European Indoors 1,500 metre race. However, last year she was awarded the bronze medal for that race after its original winner had her medal stripped.
"Being a runner and being involved in athletics is great. Athletics has so many different events, there's someone for everyone. So it makes sense to encourage kids to get active in school," she says.
GloHealth's sponsorship of Irish Schools' Athletics will provide over 30,000 athletes with the opportunity to compete at Irish Schools' Athletics championships, culminating in the prestigious All-Ireland championships in cross country, track and field and combined events.
For more information on the GloHealth sponsorship visit athleticsireland.ie.