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Editor's letter: Fun is the answer

New research has found being too serious kills kids’ interest in sport. We need to harness the power of fun to engage children and enable them to develop lifelong exercise habits

by Liz Terry, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 1

Anew survey by IPSOS Mori for Sport England called Active Lives: Children and Young People, reveals fascinating insights into how children view and respond to sport and what motivates them to participate.

The most revealing discovery was that children who are competent in all five areas of physical literacy – enjoyment, confidence, competence, understanding and knowledge – are happier and more trusting of other children. They also report higher levels of resilience.

This is a truly fundamental discovery and must pave the way for a review of the way we value sport in relation to child development. It’s especially important at this point in time, when the mental health of children and young people is giving such a cause for concern.

Researchers also found that physically literate children do twice as much activity: effectively, the more physically literate they are, the more active they are.

Factors which inspired children to want to exercise were also examined. Researchers looked at how clearly children understood the value of sport to their own wellbeing. They also looked at how much fun they had doing it.

Although 68 per cent of children were aware that sport is good for their health, having this knowledge actually had the least impact on activity levels. Instead, the biggest motivator was found to be fun and enjoyment.

In publishing the study, Sport England CEO, Tim Hollingsworth, said: “This survey gives us the richest evidence yet that sport and physical activity for children needs to be fun and enjoyable, above all.”

IPSOS Mori also confirmed that physical literacy decreases steadily with age and that as children grow older, they do less sport and report lower levels of enjoyment, confidence, competence, and understanding.

This ties in with Sport England research which shows a tendency for activity levels to drop off as children become teenagers and begs the question, which comes first – loss of physical literacy or a decline in participation?

Do we need to do more to help children maintain their physical literacy as their bodies grow and change?

We know we have to keep people moving all their lives and that developing physical literacy in childhood is the key to enjoyment and the bedrock of a lifelong exercise habit.

All policies relating to sport need to be reviewed to bring them in line with this research, so we continue to place enjoyment at the heart of children’s sport.

The Government’s School Sport Action plan green paper, which is due shortly, will be the first opportunity to do this and the industry must engage and respond.

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