Focusing on basic skills early keeps kids from quitting sports later

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Gabriola Sounder

Tuesday, September 5 2017

A majority of kids are quitting sports by their early teens, say multiple studies completed in North America over the last decade.

Jenny Ivany, a physical literacy specialist who is multi-sport certified with the National Coaching Certification Program, says the model for playing has to change from an early age in order to turn this around and to make physical activity a lifelong pursuit.

Traditional models have kids entering organized sports around age eight. 

“We know that’s not a model for success,” Ivany said. Rather, she said specialization in specific sports should be pushed back to 10-12 years old. Anything before that should focus on the building blocks of physical literacy: running, jumping, throwing, catching, swinging, sliding, swimming, kicking and balancing.

“As parents, educators and coaches we need to really be clear that the young years should be about learning their ABCs: agility, balance, co-ordination and speed,” Ivany explained. “Just as a child needs to know his/her ABCs to read, the building blocks for activity lie in a few key fundamental movement patterns.” 

The Sport for Life Society and NCCP teach these through a focus on fun and play and avoiding a win-loss mentality, which can affect whether kids choose to remain active.

“That can be hard for a facilitator such as myself,” Ivany said regarding the play-focused model she follows. “Parents wonder what kids are getting out of it.” 

Ivany looks for behavioural as well as physical markers in the kids she works with. “How does your child’s play change - are they expressing themselves more, are they more participatory or more co-ordinated in tag, do they take to riding bike a little quicker?

“It’s seeing if they are confident with their bodies.”

For this fundamental skill development, Gabriola Island is ideal as outdoor spaces and non-specialized facilities work well. Once kids reach their teen years they are already travelling off-island for school and have access to facilities such as ice rinks and pools, Ivany said.

“I’m really pleased with what I see at our Gabriola elementary school,” she said, noting there is time before school to play in nature or shoot hoops. The long recess break followed by lunch is also positive. “The reverse can mean they are using play time for eating,” she said.

Beginning this month, Ivany is teaching a new course for kids seven and older through the Gabriola Recreational Society called Run, Jump, Throw with Gabriolans Philip Vannini (current national Masters champion in the discus, shot put), and Dave Reid (former nationally ranked decathlete). 

The course builds on fundamentals taught in two other classes she teaches through GRS for younger kids.

Ivany emphasized that fostering physical literacy and instilling an “active for life” mentality doesn’t have to be a financial burden or challenging to incorporate. 

She said parents should focus on offering a variety of activities, from going to the park to signing up for a multi-sport program.

Ivany said it’s important for parents to send positive messages to their kids that avoid pointing to winning or losing. 

“A nice blanket message like, ‘I love watching you play,’ or ‘I loved watching you practice today,’ ” she suggested.