Education and Exercise. Where is the balance?

After reading the report that Sport Ireland (SI) are funding Tokyo 2020 to the tune of €36Million you could be forgiven for thinking that Ireland are about to shake up the world with their performances in the greatest sporting platform that exists. But when you drill down into it the Top Podium Grant of €40k you can see that we are actually struggling with the number of competing elite athletes in the country.

I can see why this happens as anyone that has come to the fore in Irish athletics history will tell you from Katie Taylor to Sonia O Sullivan that it is a real hard slog to work hard every day for years for very little in return both in financial terms and recognition. Of course those two women turned out to be superstars in their field but for every Katie and Sonia there is 100’s of others that we’ve never even heard of. When competing against the world’s best it is a wonder at all that we can ever see an Olympic medal of any colour standing with an Irish flag considering the actual investment towards other powerful nations.

My biggest issue with this situation is the complete lack of direction towards exercise in general in Ireland which starts with the schooling system. Our kids spend roughly 6 hours a day in school 5 days a week and if you add in homework let’s call it around 34hrs a week. The majority of primary schools will invest 2 sessions of physical education per week which would be on average 40 mins per session. So if you have a kid going to school that does not partake in after school activities or on weekends then 80 mins is the amount of exercise they get!

In this age of technology, I would hazard a guess that most kids have access to an Android/Apple device, phone and gaming console as well as the one item every household has which is the reliable old tv. Our kids will grow up using this technology to “interact” with others and it becomes a part of their lives. I’d be fairly certain that most parents would allow 80 mins per day of this type of behaviour as it is more or less the norm now. So in one day your child will match or exceed the amount of physical exercise they will get in a week!

The most logical place to increase our kid’s activity is in our schools where they spend most of their time aside from when they are at home. I am not asking for an elite module of training that will turn them from young exuberant kids into world class athletes but I would suggest that we can easily coax even the most laid back child into quadrupling their exercise simply by being proactive.

My own daughter’s school invested heavily this year in setting milestones for physical activity with extra laps of the school daily and totalling up the number of active hours each child spent completing each week. Then achieving different milestones over a few months. In the end it was very satisfying to achieve a goal – but this should be the minimum!

Would it be a huge change that every child had 1 physical exertion per day? Activities like walking, jogging, running should be a standard at any school but what about expanding the abilities of each child. How are kids supposed to get an interest in track & field, swimming, cycling and even more diverse sports like swimming, boxing and cycling if they are confined to our top 3 sports which of course are GAA/Football/Rugby. We have no avenues for these sports for our kids to even try them! 99% of adults will bring their kids to the sports they know themselves, sports they most likely grew up playing or have an interest in.

Our biggest problem outside of the schools is that there are very few if any clubs or societies that cater for sports without a cost involved that restricts them to choosing just one sport or activity. To play football could be up to €400 per year and if coupled with say swimming this can be €300 per year which can be a stress onto some families – more so if you have 3 active kids. From personal experience the biggest problem can be transportation between sessions multiple times per week for a family of 5!

In an ideal world, every school would have access to a track & field location, be close to a football field and a stone’s throw away from a swimming pool with the resources to safely allow the kids to travel back and forth while being supervised. But of course this is not nor will ever be ideal. Instead we persevere with our children’s education and ignore the exercise as it is less of a priority. But wouldn’t it be great if they could complement each other.

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