CREATING A CULTURE OF LIFELONG FITNESS

Key Points:

  • The Aspen Institute recently published a summary of their ongoing research into youth sports participation in America. The report focuses on improving access to the largest number of kids, and includes high cost as one of the main reasons kids drop out or don’t start in the first place
  • My own opinion is that one place every adult can take action now, with proven benefits to encourage lifelong fitness in their kids is for the adult to focus on lifelong fitness himself/herself

There is an interesting recent publication produced by the Aspen Institute, summarizing their ongoing efforts to do a deep dive study intoScreen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.50.29 PM many aspects of youth sports participation in America. The objective was to analyze the essential elements of the youth sports machine but also then to suggest ways to improve the culture of youth sports to encourage participation for the broadest segments of youngsters. You can view an online version of their report here, which I recommend for all adults involved as parents, coaches, or administrators.

The overall premise is solid: lifelong physical activity has enormous benefits for everyone in terms of improved health and quality of life. Further, the authors believe that starting kids off on a pathway for physical activity early in life- and then keeping them going through teenage years- will encourage lifelong fitness. There is definitely validity in these points.

The authors point out a number of factors that cause kids to drop out of sports, including cost to participate in club sports, competitive nature of some sports that might cause many kids to feel uncomfortable, long time requirements, coaches who might not promote a culture of participation and instead overemphasize winning, and others. These too are mostly valid points, and I encourage you to form your own opinions on this.

There are two points I’d like to make with my two cents to add to the conversation. First, some competition is a good thing and almost all kids (and adults) will benefit from this to help them grow to their fullest potential. Once again though it is a question of balance, and the desires of the individual young athlete. Many kids are very happy to participate in sports in which there are coaches, practices, and games in which scores are kept as long as coaches and parents don’t get too crazy. A small number of kids are internally driven to compete at the highest levels and will favor specific teams that give them the best chance to play in college or possibly professionally, and will do so in spite of the coach’s attitude. We need to have systems in place to cater to each of these groups and many kids in-between.

Second, the best thing I believe we can do as parents or other vested adults is to be fit ourselves. Seeing parents, teachers, coaches, and others regularly participate in physical activity is a powerful motivator. While we ask the big questions about what sports should be in America I’d start by looking in the mirror and see if the person looking back is the one you want your kids to be. Harsh? Maybe. Go take some action and make a difference.

By Dev Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

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