The year is 1932. Americans watch in apprehension as their beloved Babe Ruth takes to the batting box of the World Series, representing the iconic New York Yankees. Having struck out twice, Ruth prepares himself for his final attempt at victory. What happens next will have sports fans debating for decades. It looks as though Ruth, assuredly, points to an area behind the flagpole indicating that, with his next swing, he will score a homerun. Yankees fans clench their teeth in trepidation as he takes position. The strike of the ball on the bat rings out across the stadium and Americans cheer as Ruth races to home base, his feet moving swiftly across the dirt, ultimately scoring a home run. The stands roar with enthusiasm and, for a moment, all is right with the world.
This scene is a celebrated moment that every American knows well and that children have emulated in their very own gardens for decades. It is spectacular moments, such as this, that give children the inspiration to conquer the playing field themselves, ultimately uncovering the wonderful world of sport.
Few things can compare to the feeling of the warm summer’s sun on your skin, the faint sound of a whistle blowing from a distance, or the redeeming feeling of loosing oneself in the steadfast beat of your own feet on the turf.
However, iconic moments and sensations such as these are often substituted with pixelated fields and players, requiring nothing more than nimble thumbs and weary, dead-set eyes. Children spend their days eagerly clicking away, all for the comfortable satisfaction of knowing they’ve made it to the next level. But as the day comes to an end and the screen fades, there is little to be said for small, video game victories.
Unfortunately, those who are courageous enough to brave the real world of sport are often met with angry, distraught coaches, dissatisfied parents, and all-round unpleasant experiences. When did we let sport become a ‘win at all costs’ display of fraudulence and disrespect? We have lost touch with a vital aspect of our culture, an aspect that teaches respect, dignity, perseverance and dedication. We have lost touch with sport.
It is becoming more and more infrequent for children to pursue sport and physical activity with the forever-escalading field of technological and Internet gaming. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) reports that fewer than twenty-seven percent of American youths aged six to twelve were participating in organized or unstructured sports in the year 2015. That is nearly a four percent drop from a previous survey conducted in 2008. Additionally, the rate among children aged thirteen to seventeen decreased from 42.7% to 39.3% from 2008 to 2015. So, why does this matter? Why should the steady decline in our youth’s participation in sport and physical activities concern us?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that children require sixty minutes of physical activity each day. These activities should include a variety of aerobic, bone strengthening and muscle strengthening exercises. Yet recess times in both the United States and in the United Kingdom average less than thirty minutes a day, and rarely meet these exercise requirements.
In short, extracurricular sport is a necessity to our youth’s health. It is vital to assist our youths, from an early age, in making the necessary steps to sustaining a healthy and happy life. But how do we encourage our children to pursue sport when their experiences of sport are so often tainted by the unrealistic expectations inflicted on them by coaches and parents? To change the experience of sport, we must learn to view sport as a way to develop our youths holistically, encouraging the values on which sports and sportsmanship were originally founded.
The Aspen Institute’s ‘Project Play’ states “Only 1 in 5 youth coaches is trained in effective motivational technique with children.” The True Athlete Project aims to improve these figures through changing the way coaches are trained to instruct and inspire our children. Mindfulness, mentoring and mental skills training are the cornerstones of our approach.
In the year 2012, more than one third of children living in the United States were found to be obese or overweight. Moreover, childhood obesity is proven to put children at risk for heart disease, diabetes, bone and joint complications, and psychological problems (CDC.gov). Working as a Registered Nurse in an urban hospital, I have witnessed many accounts of progressively deteriorating health related to a lack of proper physical education. Nearly every patient treated has fallen victim to hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia or severe anxiety, often leading to further co-morbidities. We have learned to accept these diagnoses as they have become common given the culture we live in today.
Additionally, exercise and healthy eating habits are often learned at an early age, and coaches frequently miss the profound opportunity to not only inspire children to pursue sport and physical activity, but to teach them how to take their health to a holistic level, practicing not just good physical health, but good mental health as well. I have often wondered what the world would look like if coaches seized this opportunity.
Given the incidence of mental and physical illness in the western world, sport and physical activity seems a logical solution to these issues we face and coaches have an incredible opportunity to make an everlasting impact. The True Athlete Project aims to train coaches to motivate children to pursue sport and physical activity and to live mindful, holistic lives. Through this approach, we hope to make the world a happier and healthier place. Imagine a world with scarcer devastation in relation to preventable morbidities and disease. Imagine a world where we are united for the same cause, one that promotes health and wellbeing, in every sense of the word. Imagine a world united by sport.
By Cloie Hamilton, R.N.