It seems that the days of teaching children competitive team sports as a way to improve fitness and develop team working skills are over. Schools in the UK are now more likely to teach children yoga and circus skills than football and hockey.
Fewer than 1 in 3 children compete in sports, and less that 20% of children compete against other schools in team sports. Now children are more likely to learn cheer leading, yoga and circus skills (although not any of the dangerous and exciting circus skills).
Another worrying trend is that PE lessons (physical education) is moving even more towards theory and discussion. Some schools have even sat children down to watch YouTube video clips of great sporting moments to start a discussion on the game. Sport theory and tactics is of course vital to the success of any team, but if the team do not know how to operate together, learning the theory is surely a waste of time and effort.
The main problem with teaching children exercises such as Pilates, yoga and juggling is that they are all generally solitary exercises. When people leave school and look for ways to get fit, they turn to more solitary forms of exercise because they do not have the skills or confidence to approach a local amateur football club and ask to join in. At school the opportunity is still there to teach children team sports before it is too late. Once a child has left school if they have had no experience of team sports it becomes almost impossible to then start learning.
The reason for the problem seems to be threefold. Firstly, many inner city schools have no playing fields so it is impossible to teach the children how to play football or hockey, and a national curriculum often means that lowering standards to accommodate all schools rather than allowing some to follow their own logical path. Secondly, health and safety concerns make teachers more wary about getting unskilled children to play contact sports such as rugby. And finally, schools are losing male teachers who would traditionally teach the boys team sports and command respect on the playing field. Nowadays children do not respect the games teacher enough to pay attention on the field.
There have been cases where parents have fought back. At one school in the UK some parents took time off work to study for sports coaching certificates, and then teach rugby and cricket to the children themselves. At this school there were no male teachers to provide the young children with an early experience of male team sports.
It could be argued that teaching children more solitary exercise methods will actually put them in good stead for their future as it empowers people to get fit by themselves. If you know how to exercise you have no excuse for not getting fit. But what of the nation’s team sports? Will football, cricket, baseball and rugby all suffer as a result?