There was a news story that made headline news a few weeks back. It detailed how children's injuries in sport were soaring to an all-time new high. As you can imagine this caught my attention for many reasons.
I had questions. Why was this happening? Why are more kids now succumbing to a greater rate of injuries? And is there something we can do to prevent this from happening? So I proceeded to write down a few of my own thoughts.
Firstly, we need to celebrate kids who want to play sport. Be it for fun, a pastime, or competition, sport can be likened to a language, a way for the child to express themselves in their own unique way, and to communicate and exchange with other like-minded peers, be it in a physical contest or social environment.
It's an outlet, just like any other extra-curricular activity, and therefore expands their intellectual capacity. Thus, their involvement in such needs to be celebrated, applauded, and encouraged.
However, when the training and conditioning for a sport begins to get excessive (i.e. more than half of their age in hours per week e.g. a 10-year-old doing more than five hours of sport-specific conditioning in a week) this needs to be acknowledged as being beyond what the child's physical capabilities are - for a growing body isn't adapted to absorb repetitive activities in that volume.
A growing body needs variety and variability - this is what grows adaptability and resilience. And this is what will make their bodies strong. Repetition, over time, could actually weaken them - and this may not be known or observed for many years.
However, I have digressed, because my primary thought is around what I consider to be the underlying factor here - why is it that our children are succumbing to greater injury rates? It's not just sheer volume or intensity of their sporting endeavours or environments that is exposing them to more injuries, it's something much closer to home, something much simpler.
A lack of play. And more particularly, a lack of outdoor play. There's too much cotton wool. There's too much helicoptering. There's too much 'don't do that because you might get hurt.' There's too much restraint, full stop.
And as a parent I get it. I wear that same protective apron for my own children. And I too have needed to acknowledge that there is a level of protection that is too much, that is possibly harming our kids more than it is protecting them.
Kids need to climb trees. They need to swing on monkey bars. They need to reach the highest place on a playground. They need to wrestle around with their siblings. They need to go really, really fast down-hill on a bike.
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They need to continually and consistently challenge their own physical skills by exploring their outdoor environments – it's a childhood necessity. They need to play. Outdoors. More. Way more.
We're suffocating their need to roam, adventure, explore and conquer their physical environments. And by doing so we're ignoring their bodies inherent physical needs that enable them to create the strength, agility, mobility, adaptability, and resilience required to grow into a healthy, sturdy, physically-capable human.
And don't even get me started on the cognitive, social, or mental benefits of 'hardcore', 'old school', physical play (that's a whole another story – but demonstrates many more reasons why play is so powerful for our growing generations).
We need to release our children back into the wild, strictly limit their time on devices or screens, let go of the fear we have over our children hurting themselves (we all turned out okay didn't we?), and let them be kids, real kids again.
Because it's the variety and freedom they experience when we liberate their physical needs in outdoor environments that facilitate this growth, that'll give them strong and resilient muscles and joints, and that'll boost their physical capacities and capabilities no end.
And this, in itself, will boost sporting performance AND limit injury.
• Corinne Austin is a health and movement coach (email@example.com).