It is an accepted responsibility of being a parent that we keep our children healthy. Whilst this is done through nutrition and keeping them safe, there’s also a role for exercise, which is where encouraging them to participate in sport comes in.
In addition to keeping a child fit and active, it also creates a situation where a child learns to be part of a team, accepts rules and decisions and make friends outside his or her usual group.
However, it seems that the lifestyles of parents are now heavily influencing the sporting pursuits our younger generation are making. Changes in society are now permeating the sporting activities of children, and whilst occasionally understandable, are not always for the best.
In the mid-1980s, the rise of the yuppie and the so-called greed period saw a move away from team based activities and more towards those based around self. As such, we saw individual based sports and pastimes such as a return to body building and the rise of triathlons, aerobics and other solo orientated sports at the cost of team based sports where glory and success were shared.
Whilst that Greed generation (and its embarrassing clothing trends) has waned, many of these activities remained and during that period of time, interest in being part of a team definitely dropped off.
Now, it seems that the societal push towards parents being (or considering themselves to be) time poor is also contributing to a change in the sporting landscape.
Parents who cannot afford or do not feel they wish to commit, the time for longer form sports, coupled with a desire to protect their offspring from danger, is seeing a move away from some traditional sports.
With the safety issue, the desire to protect a child is understandably primal and completely understandable. Parents can either protect their children reactively (by stepping in the way of danger when it occurs) or proactively, by removing the risk or likelihood of injury or hurt in advance. This is why there’s a significant move towards less contact sports such as soccer in preference to football, or the rise in junior AFL clubs wearing protective headgear.
But it is the decisions around time commitments that are proving to be fascinating.
There has been a significant increase amongst the schools and young athletes I see and interact with towards basketball in favour of cricket. And the reason isn’t NBA marketing, the decline of Australian’s cricket fortunes or any other reason associated with the actual sport.
It’s the time factor. Parents openly admit that it is easier for them or better for their weekend lives to be in and out of a basketball match within the hour, rather than staying at a cricket match that takes much longer.
Add to that the prospects of a cricket match starting very early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, or taking up a Friday night, and the child possibly participating in it for a very brief period of time, and the decision towards a game over in under an hour, played inside, where the child may see more game time, and the move towards sports like this seem justified.
However, it is sad when the decisions of a parent for reasons such as being busy are robbing kids of the opportunity to participate in some sports.
My son’s year 7 class this year includes 150 12 and 13 year old boys in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. This term, nearly 80 kids signed up for school basketball, with only 34 playing cricket. Whilst the school has a strong basketball program, many boys needed to be guided away from basketball as there were limited spots available across the 5 teams, and so people moved to other short term indoor sports like volleyball.
Recently the B cricket side had its game cancelled as the opposing school, of a similar size, is only fielding one cricket side this term. The school is getting very good at its player rotation policy as a result!
In talking to parents about this decline in cricket participation, there is a common thread of what is good for the parent being a decision making factor. Parents are saying that the impact on their weekends is a significant factor.
This is not a criticism of basketball as young people will continue to benefit in relation to heath, teamwork and discipline by playing this great world sport. And we shouldn’t be worried about a decline in cricket popularity in the future, as (sadly) increasing numbers in junior basketball and netball participation do not correlate to senior level crowds or ratings.
As each year goes by, parents are taking a greater and closer interest in what sports their children play. However, the choices made by parents to encourage or guide their children’s decisions are varied in what goes into them, and in some cases, unashamedly, seem to be more about the parent than the child.