Kids drop ball on sports skills
Young children, especially girls, are dropping the ball on basic skills such as catching and throwing, according to landmark WA research.
A University of WA study over 30 years of more than 27,000 primary school-aged children, the biggest of its kind in the world, showed an alarming decline in the skills, fitness and flexibility of children aged six to 12 since the early 1980s.
Of most concern is the slide in six-year-olds, who now perform markedly worse than those in the 1980s in simple tasks such as somersaults, underarm throws and catching and bouncing balls.
Using a scaling system with 100 being average, these children were now scoring 20 to 30 points less than children a few decades ago.
The results, published in the journal Advances in Physical Education, are based on data collected by Sports Challenge Australia, which has tracked fitness and skills levels in 33,000 children aged five to 17, most from WA.
Its chief executive and UWA adjunct professor Garry Tester said the findings were a wake-up call for parents and schools to do more for young children.
He said if children missed out on basic skills in primary school, they invariably avoided sporting activities in high school.
Dr Tester blamed part of the problem on schools moving away from trained physical education teachers and instead relying on classroom teachers to take children outside to do a few laps around the oval and “throw their arms around”.
Children in schools with trained PE teachers were “streets ahead”. “Another thing that stood out was children’s lack of flexibility, because when we measured how far they could reach past their toes, most couldn’t do it, and that’s because there is no warm-up in their physical education sessions, ” he said.
Professor Tim Ackland, who heads UWA’s School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, said the trends were worrying because though childhood obesity had several causes, lack of physical activity was a key factor.
“We’re missing a great opportunity in primary school for children to maintain activity and learn fundamental movement skills that will set them up for lifelong activity, but that requires a trained physical education teacher, ” he said.
Missing out on skills flowed into adulthood, when people were unlikely to do activities such as playing tennis or golf if they never learnt to hit a ball.
© The West Australian
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