Give children a sporting chance

I wasn’t surprised to read in the national press last week that one in six children was unable to swim, one in ten hadn’t learned to ride a bike, whilst almost a quarter had never run 400 metres.

Is all this any wonder when the vast majority of British children spend so much more time sitting in front of either a TV or a computer screen than they do playing sport?

Even if children are keen to play sport, because of the academic demands of our National Curriculum in schools, they’d be hard pressed to find much time to run around a playing field, (provided, of course, that the local council hadn’t sold the field to build a new housing development).

Further to this, the age of teachers giving up their free time after school to coach games for the most part disappeared in 1986, when the then Education Minister, Keith Joseph, informed the profession that henceforward we teachers were to be closely monitored to prevent any of us slacking.

This immediately prompted a response of ‘in that case, we’ll do what we’re paid to do, nothing more, nothing less’.

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As a result, sport in our schools was damaged irreparably.

Nowadays, even if a teacher was dedicated enough to coach games after hours, he or she would have to be very wary of ensuring there were no winners or losers – in case a child’s psyche was damaged as a result – and that the sport itself was in no way dangerous for fear the coach was held to account in a court of law.

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Sixty-two percent of 15-16 year old pupils fail to partake in any sport at all. We have created an unfit generation, many of whom are eating too much food and can’t be bothered to take any meaningful exercise.

Even if they have undertaken some sport in school, the vast majority of youngsters give up completely as soon as they leave, preferring to spend their weekends earning money in the local supermarket or, more likely, hanging around street corners.

Lack of sport amongst boys, in particular, is directly linked to academic under-achievement, low self esteem and, in some cases, involvement in crime.

Sport is one of the lifebloods of our society, both as an entertainment and as an educator.

Apart from keeping us fit and healthy, it instills fair play, courage, perserverance, determination and team spirit.

To quote the Duke of Wellington: “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

Isn’t it ironic that, in the year GB is hosting the Olympic Games, participation in sport has never been lower?

Who wants a bike for Christmas when there’s a chance of getting your hands on the latest games console?

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