Sunday, May 27, 2012

Huffing and puffing

I haven't wanted to write this piece because of its implications, but I have now received confirmation from a number of other observers.  What I have been seeing in the last year or two on the soccer fields is that the boys and girls aged 9 to 14 are in noticeably poorer condition than their counterparts were several years ago.  I see a 12-year-old boy run down the field to chase down a ball and then have to walk back, breathing heavily.  I see a 14-year-old girl give up trying to catch an opposing player because she doesn't have the stamina to keep at it for 30 yards.  I see a 9 year-old-boy asking to be subbed out after eight minutes of play.

I asked some of my fellow referees if they have noticed the same thing.  All have.  This week, a young man said that he has seen a marked deterioration in just the last few years.  His explanation:  "These kids sign up for the town soccer league, and they use it as their sole source of exercise.  They and their parents think that showing up two or three times a week for 90 minutes will get them in shape or keep them in shape.  They are sedentary for the rest of the week, especially now that everyone has iPhones and computers."

Another colleague said, "In my day, you were outside all the time playing with your friends, making up games of all sorts in your neighborhood.  If you were part of organized sports, that was just a small segment of your physical activity.  Also, you only signed up for an organized sport if you were passionate about that specific sport.  It was not a parental expectation.  You worked hard at getting in shape off the field during the rest of the week -- and you spent hours practicing your moves at home and in street play -- because you wanted to be noticed by the coach and get as much playing time as possible during your formal games."

I'm worried. Have we inadvertently contributed to this problem by focusing our children too much on organized sports?  Do parents sign up their children less for the child's love of the game than as a kind of prescription for a weekly dose of exercise?  In so doing, have they bought into the 3x90 minute regime?   If children are this sedentary at such young ages, what will happen as they get older?


John said...

From Facebook:

Noticed the same thing this weekend at Needham. U15 girls in the elite division were not in great shape even at the end of their season. Granted it was a warm muggy day but they should be used to it and be able to run for more than 15 minutes.

Darlene said...

From Facebook:

As a physical therapist I definitely can see the trend over the years and it's worrisome. Although I don't work with kids anymore, I've observed plenty of kids who are either so thin and frail-looking that they'll have osteoporosis by the time they're in their 40's, if not sooner, or so obese with mal-aligned joints that their legs and spines are not going to hold them up by the time they're in their 30's. I see this as a major public health problem which is so multi-factorial that it seems hopeless.