In an article that will bring mixed emotions to parents and disbelief from children, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently reported children today are not as fit or fast as previous generations.
Fitness levels of children have declined approximately 6% each decade since 1970. This may not be surprising to many, as the current lifestyle of children is much more information based than previous generations.
It is easily attributable to the advent and increased popularity of elaborate video gaming systems. While this may be true and a cause for concern, other factors are equally important if not so easily identified. Free play – that is, children playing without the supervision of adults or without an imposed structure – has declined according to the British Journal of Occupational Therapy.
While some parents may initially rejoice at the prospect of telling their children how much fitter and faster mom and dad were (and being able to back it up with supporting sources), after consideration this revelation is disconcerting.
Children’s fitness is a good indicator and predictor of their health. This does not bode well for the future of our society. When the additional concerns regarding the benefits of free play (fitness, conflict resolution, joy, handling victory and defeat, and learning to get along with others) are put into the equation, our children are missing out on important activities.
Additionally, many parents want to see progress and evolution for their children – neither of which is indicated by the previously mentioned articles. It may be initially pleasing to learn that your generation was 15% fitter and could run a mile 90 seconds faster (according to the AHA article) than the current generation of children, but is this something we really want?
Dr. William Steffen is the Chair of Sport Coaching at the United States Sports Academy. He was formerly the women’s soccer coach for nine years at the University of Oregon. He has also worked with members of the national women’s program. He has written and lectured extensively on coaching soccer. He most recently presented at the annual meeting of the National Soccer Coaches Association of American (NSCAA).