In the UK news today are reports suggesting 1 in 6 British kids between 6-15 years of age can’t swim, 1 in 10 can’t ride a bike, and almost a quarter have never run 400m.
The figures are based on a survey of 1500 kids by a special interest group, so it’s always worth adding a note of caution, but if it’s remotely genuine it’s worrying news, and a clear indication that the vast amounts being spent on the Olympics might have been better spent on encouraging grass roots sport.
The swimming figure is particularly worrying given the safety as well as health benefits of being able to swim. Whilst the oft-quoted claim that there are more swimming pools in Paris than in the whole of the UK is apparently nonsense (at least according to the QI forum!) there are definitely a lot fewer pools in the UK than there used to be.
The public schools have the resources to make sure kids try every sport going, so that pretty much everyone (Stephen Fry excepted, if you read his excellent autobiography!) who goes to one manages to find at least some form of sport or exercise that they enjoy, or at least tolerate.
The story in state schools is completely different, at least according to received wisdom – either it’s non-competitive sport that doesn’t engage anyone, or you get written off as “no good at sport” (like the founder of Konkura did!) just because you’re not instantly good at the first couple of games (usually football, rugby or hockey) you try.
We need a sea-change to make sport and exercise much more fun and an intrinsic part of daily life for kids – cycling or walking to school, playing outside, and taking part in competitive sport at school and outside. The opportunities to try more sports to find what they enjoy, and then the encouragement to keep doing them. Also, we need to cut through the current marketing nonsense that claims Wii Fit and Kinect can be at the core of a fit and healthy lifestyle, as opposed to a bit of fun that may burn a few calories but are not a substitute for genuine exercise.
Otherwise, it looks like sport will become an ever more specialised and exclusive activity, and the only gold medals the majority of the population will be winning will be in highest obesity rates.
What do you think? How should kids (and adults for that matter) be encouraged to do more sport and fitness. Or do you think it’s not an issue? Please comment below.