Australia loves its sport, and for many of us it’s a lifelong passion that starts in childhood. School sport used to be a major part of Aussie life, but a changing world has seen its place slowly diminish over the years.
Research conducted by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) as part of the government’s Ausplay initiative has shown that almost half of secondary students drop out of taking part in organised sport, and only one in 10 young people meet the recommended amount of daily exercise. In contrast to this, more than two-thirds of young people spend two hours or more each day interacting with screen-based entertainment. When all these statistics are considered together it starts to paint a concerning picture.
Playing sport is not only linked to better physical health it also has a slew of other benefits. It has been shown to build confidence, reduce depression and foster a sense of community. In a culture where we are seeing the impact that childhood obesity can have, and an increasing incidence of mental health issues among young people, we need to be finding a way to encourage them to play more sport, not less.
There’s a number of obvious factors that aren’t helping. Competition from other forms of leisure activities, the increasing cost of taking part that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, and even the way in which many parents push their children too hard and create toxic environments around clubs.
The government and sporting bodies are working together more and more to ensure that local clubs provide pathways for young people to participate regardless of skill levels, and emphasising the importance of healthy competition versus a win-at-all-costs mentality. They are also putting guidelines in place to create safe environments for young people.
But, like anything else in life, if we want our young people to participate in sport then we need to model healthy behaviours and attitudes. We need to demonstrate that sport is a priority by ensuring that funding is available at the grassroots to provide quality facilities. We need to not only value the volunteers who keep local sports running, but also give of our own time and resources.
Most of all, if we want to encourage our young people to lead healthy lifestyles we need to give them an example to follow. There is no point simply talking about the importance of sport or exercise when we aren’t doing any ourselves.
It’s a lesson that rings true in other parts of lives. Whatever change we want to see in those around us, or whatever values we want to impart, the key is to live it through our actions—and then others will follow. When this happens we begin to contribute to not only healthy people but healthy communities in body, mind and spirit.