Back to school and back to bad habits? Western Sydney University experts talk keeping kids active

Physical activity isn’t the most enticing thing for children on school holidays, but with the vacation period finally coming to a close and the chaos of a new year once again filling our calendars, parents are finding it harder to fit in sport for their children.

But Western Sydney University academics say getting children involved in physical activity and away from their screens can be made easier with a few tips.

Associate Professor Dr Paul Marshall, from the School of Science and Health says the challenge of technology vs outdoor activities is always a juggling act for parents. The appeal of iPads and game consoles often appear insurmountable but Dr Marshall says parents need to appreciate what is appealing about ‘games’, and incorporate that into the physical games they want their children to engage with.

“To compete with the exploration challenge that is weaved into video games such as Minecraft, showing children a real-world physical exploration can easily supersede the lure of video games.

“I am yet to see a young child dislike the experience of bush-walking or exploring beaches/rock pools around the beautiful NSW region,” he says.

Dr Marshall also suggests incorporating a scoring system into physical activity games.

“Children inherently like to know the score, so using games where there is some form of ‘high-score’ system will be rewarding.”

“Whilst rotation systems for players and positions in children’s sport should be mandatory, the removal of scoring systems takes away part of the appeal that makes video games an exciting experience.”

Combined with working households, Dr Marshall says the challenge of screen time and the time for basic physical skill practice, is low. Reintroducing activities that are easy, inexpensive and fun are the key to getting children excited about outdoor activities.

And if outdoor activities aren’t enough, Sport for children is a perfect opportunity to have fun, meet new friends and stay active. But Professor Jorge Knijnik from Western Sydney University’s School of Education, warns that participation in sport competition for young children should be thoughtfully considered.

“Sport educators point out that children should not be involved in high level competition before they are 12 years old,” he says.

“Determining the appropriate age for a child to participate in representative sport also depends on the type of competitive environment that a child is exposed to. Are there people yelling at them? Are there parents or coaches demanding a ‘win at all costs’ and not accepting anything but the first place? If so, this will certainly not be beneficial to their further development as athletes and human beings.”

“Since the early 1990s, educational and psychological research has demonstrated that children mostly enter in sports competitions looking for fun, socialising with friends and to develop their motor skills. But data shows that children drop out from sports because of excessive pressure to perform, compete and win,” Professor Knijnik says.

Many individual sports— in opposition to team sports— add pressure on the players, so parents need to make sure they are carefully choosing the competitive environment they want their children to be involved with.

“Being an elite athlete is not for everyone. To be at an Olympic level or even to be a state representative, involves a range of circumstances that in many times are not available for most of the children,” he says.

Associate Professor Knijnik stresses that being at the top or winning, should not be the only reason that children get involved in sports.

“Children don’t need to become a novelist to learn how to write. They learn it because it’s important in their lives. The same with sports; it’s not about being an Olympic champion.

Sports involvement can teach children valuable lessons on leadership, human relationships, resilience, multiculturalism, social inclusion, care of the body and many others,” he says.


30 January 2018

Jessica Cortis, Media Officer