In our schools, we teach children to play sports. Invariably, this means team sports. In Britain these might be soccer, rugby or cricket. In the US, perhaps football or baseball. These are precisely the wrong sports to teach our children.
Team sports are said to teach so much more than just exercise – leadership and teamwork for instance. This might be true if you’re in the first team, especially if you’re the captain. In my case, as for 90% of kids, sports lessons taught us to stand around waiting for something interesting to happen, hoping that we wouldn’t be hit in the face by a wooden cricket ball or squashed to death by hairy rugby players. I learned nothing about leadership, other than resentment from being told what to do, and very little about being a team player, other than experiencing the solidarity of belonging to a group of like-minded people, who all hated sports.
And yet, in middle age, I am fit. I exercise most days. The exercises that I have maintained throughout my adult life were things they didn’t teach at school – yoga, weights, running, cycling. They are activities that can be done on your own, or in an informal class, with very little equipment.
Ironically, most of the first team, who were celebrated for their sporting prowess, and monopolised the coach’s time and attention, now are unfit. The nearest they get to exercise is lifting a pint glass and reminiscing about the good old days. That’s because team sports such as football, cricket and baseball require a large and well-maintained field, and membership of a club. They require the kind of commitment that doesn’t fit in well with modern family life.
How much better would it be if we taught our children the kind of physical exercise that would enable them to stay fit throughout their whole lives, instead of teaching a few to win medals, before retiring from sport at the age of 18?