Kids and Sport

A couple of years ago, I made the very popular argument that sports are not actually that popular and that we should be funding more recreational physical activities. I was particularly critical of the way funding goes to team sports as populist pork-barrelling.

Recently I stumbled across an American survey of children’s sports participation that suggested kids are playing less sports, less regularly, and that Armageddon must surely be upon us if this isn’t immediately addressed*. Obviously, I was terribly concerned and immediately emailed my local senator, before realising I’m Australian and think they are concerned about the wrong thing.

While sports, particularly team sports, make up a significant proportion of the organised physical activity of kids, this rapidly declines with age. The two biggest reasons for this change are people having a lack of time to be involved in organised activities, and injury and health issues (from people’s mid-thirties onward Source). Almost as if contact sports might result in injuries. Amazing.

I think the obvious solution is to stop placing such an emphasis on sports and instead focus on the activities we are much more likely to be able to do throughout our lives. But since kids are too young for sex, best to encourage them to go to the gym, go walking, riding, or running.

Now, being Aussie, I’m more interested in Aussie stats: call me a patriot. Our stats are slightly different from the US, showing that there has actually been an increase in kids playing sports, lead by increased participation in soccer and dance. Eight times as many girls doing dance, but boys are starting to get the hint about how to meet girls.

Here is a similar Australian sports survey to the US one was done by AusPlay which looked at what people were doing for physical activity, and it matches with other data from the ABS and Roy Morgan.

top 20 activities
Source

This table hasn’t changed much, particularly when it comes to the top 3. Sometimes these tables are presented with jogging, athletics, running, and track and field separated, such that swimming comes out higher. But that’s just to confuse people or make swimmers feel like that aren’t painfully alone, staring at an endless black strip at the bottom of a pool, chlorine itching their skin, as they struggle toward their next breath. Regardless, it shows that the vast majority of interest is in fitness activities, not sports.

But those figures are for all Aussies. Kids have a different emphasis. Caring parents are desperate to turn out well-rounded offspring with plenty of torn ligaments, broken bones, and early stages of CTE by having them play sports. As a result, kids tend to ignore going for walks in favour of bouncing a ball off of their foreheads. But this quickly declines as kids enter their teen years, continues to drop into their twenties, then levels off until another rapid decline after 40.

child participation by age
Source
sport with age
Source

This isn’t the whole story, of course. As I noted in my previous article, participation is usually measured annually. Regular participation tells a slightly different story. Most kids are physically active at least weekly**, while adults are trying for three times a week. Or put another way, kids get dragged to sport on a Saturday morning (and maybe once after school depending on how mum is feeling after cocktail hour) and adults manage to go for a walk three times a week when the dog starts bouncing off the walls with energy.

adult frequency
Source
child frequency
Source

Likewise, the motivations for physical activity are also tied to what people actually do – namely health and fitness. The differences come in with enjoyment and socialising being higher for sports versus activity. Obviously, everyone loves having their ribs mashed into their lungs as they are tackled to the ground during a friendly game of football***, so it is completely understandable that people would rank these highly for sports. But I would argue that non-sports activity is potentially fun/enjoyable and can be very sociable. If you don’t believe me, go to any university gym and see how much fun the gang of dudes pretending to look swole in stringer singlets are having hogging the bench press.

reasons
Source

Attitudes are changing.

“If you go back in the old days, competition was probably the key driver of the sports,” Mr Fairweather said. “Now it is all about health and fitness, whether you are playing sport or physical activity.” Source

So with that change in attitude and lifetime participation, I think it is time to change our focus away from sports. Whenever these surveys are reported it is always couched in terms of how we need to encourage people back into sports – with pictures/videos of football players and fat kids lying on a couch gaming. But that is missing the point entirely. People are shifting away from sports for a reason. People actually prefer physical activity. We’re pushing kids to be involved in sports instead of setting up good physical activity behaviours for life.

Trying to increase sports participation isn’t the solution, it is the problem. Setting up kids to be physically active for life is the solution, and that requires a rethink and a reallocation of resources. We could start by not calling these sports surveys “sport” surveys. Unless we want to keep pretending walking is a sport.

*As opposed to the very concerning rise in the pastime of shooting US kids.

**Kids are generally more active than adults, though. This is something lost in these surveys due to the way activity is defined. An adult might go to the gym and have an intense 30 minutes of telling other gym goers about their new diet, but kids will spend several hours chasing each other around the playground in an attempt to ruin yet another pair of sneakers. The former will be counted as physical activity, the latter won’t.

***The type of tackle and how many ribs that end up broken will greatly depend on the most popular code in your area. Not every football code is wimpy enough to wear padding and not every code allows proper tackling instead of tripping.

Update: Physical education people are starting to come around to my POV.

More stats: https://www.clearinghouseforsport.gov.au/research/smi/ausplay/results/sport

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Reading stats for 2012

Hot off of the presses we have two new American reading surveys: Reading Habits in Different Communities and E-book Reading Jumps; Print Book Reading Declines

Actually, the phrase “hot off of the presses” is rather antiquated now. News stories that are breaking generally hit electronic mediums, or in some cases, such as celebrity gossip, they hit the TV and radio mediums. Interesting research or data is normally promoted virally via Twitter and the like. Should we have a new phrase like “just blogged” or “trending tweet” instead?

Back to the survey. While not all of us live in the USA, despite what some American congress-people might say, their trends in reading can be seen as indicative of what is happening elsewhere or is likely to happen elsewhere. The Pew Institute have done a pretty decent survey, it would be great if a few others were done for other countries.

What I found interesting was the growth in e-books and e-readers. There are further breakdowns in the full reports about why the change is happening, but suffice to say, e-books have many advantages over paper, despite paper books still being the most popular reading format.

Ereading-device-ownership

We can see a growth of 9% in people reading e-books during 2012, up from 21% to 30%. In terms of age demographics we can see that most age groups are taking up e-books, although the big growth is still in the middle age (30-49) group.

02-reading-and-ebooks

The next point of interest was who the readers were and how much they read. We can see that there is still a sizeable chunk of the community that don’t read and another chunk that pretend to read. I’d hazard a guess that light readers read non-fiction and the latest talked about bestseller only. Because they never really read good books it takes them ages to read one book and thus don’t read often.

22-reading-frequency

Among those ages 16 and older who had read a book in the past 12 months:

  • 8% read 1 book
  • 17% 2-3 books
  • 16% 4-5 books
  • 19% 6-10 books
  • 18% 11-20 books
  • 22% more than 20 books (this is my category)

Book-readers

And my final comment, women are still the readers. They make up a bigger proportion of book readers and they read more books. I have my own hypotheses as to why this is: boys are expected to like sport and reading is the opposite of sport; and reading doesn’t make you look as sexy as playing sport, so boys think you are less likely to get laid if you read. The big change I’d like to see, and this seems to be the case with e-readers and e-books, is for the average reader to read more books in a year, even if it is only so that people read the book before they make the movie of it.

How readers find books

Interesting article that I found a while ago. The study highlights how important it is to have people talking about your book. This is why my book reviews are basically a plug for books I’ve enjoyed reading. Sell it forward.

 

Also, comment if you don’t like the embedded pdf file. This is a little experiment to see if it is worth doing with other things I find.