We must make it financially possible for children to have the opportunity to play multiple sports.
Most elite athletes were good at several sports. Those like Tiger Woods — who first picked up a club at two — are the exception. In fact, Tiger’s blinkered and limited existence might even explain how he veered so ruinously off course later in life.
Karmichael Hunt was a prodigious talent for the Brisbane Broncos but also played with AFL club Gold Coast Suns and 15 matches for French rugby union side Biarritz Olympique. Ellyse Perry has represented Australian in football and in cricket. Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri have had successful careers in Rugby League and Rugby Union. Netballer Gretel Tippett has signed a two-year contract with the Queensland Firebirds but was also a former national age representative in basketball.
There are several issues at work here: our children need to play a variety of sports. One, because it helps them find the one they like and perhaps play best. As well, playing a variety of sports will make them better at the one they eventually settle on.
The New York Times recently reported on a meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine which released figures showing that elite athletes at university level specialised in their chosen sport at an average age of 15.4 years. Those who failed to make the grade specialised much younger.
A Swedish study focusing on tennis revealed similar results, with those reaching the elite level not specialising until age 14.
This underlines the importance of playing a variety of sports if your children aspire to excel. Most, of course, don’t. There are also myriad studies that deal with the valuable physical and social benefits of children being involved in team sports.
We risk robbing a large number of children of that experience if we can’t find a way to make it financially possible at a time when disposable dollars are often in short supply.
Anyone reading this who has children or grandchildren will know exactly how costly junior sport has become. Those involved will also point to insurance, preparation of grounds and many other factors creating financial pressures that are making it economically difficult for parents to give their children the joyful and enriching experiences that we remember from our own childhoods.
One of the dispiriting aspects of the debate that has followed the recent Federal budget is that all parties and many self-interest groups seem to measure everything in terms of dollars and cents. A saving here, a reduction there.
Sometimes, it’s better to spend a dollar (or a few million) to make a dollar. And to create a better, healthier, happier community.
We are told incessantly about the crisis confronting our health budget. No doubt about that. We are living longer and technology is now making available tests and procedures that not long ago were the stuff of vivid imaginations. All the more reason to be proactive with preventative methods.
Obesity, for instance, is on the rise, as are the many health problems related to it. Instead of looking only to tax those foods that are bad for us why not aim some money at making junior sport more available to struggling families?
A new generation becoming increasingly reliant on technology needs to be reminded of the many benefits and pleasures of team sports.
Families must be encouraged to get involved and given the financial assistance to make it possible.
For politicians of all persuasions, this should be a priority.