Now that there’s much less money coming in from the government, many municipalities are choosing sports and recreation as one of the first areas for cutbacks. Completely irresponsible, thinks Chris Visscher, professor by special appointment of Youth Sport at the University of Groningen, particularly when it comes to sports facilities for children and youth. Visscher: ‘Cutting back on sports and recreation is an incredibly short-term solution!’
For years ways have been thought up to counteract obesity and campaigns have been set up to get people to exercise more and live more healthily. ‘Enormous amounts of money are invested in that. What you want is for children to develop a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is an unconditional part of that. So invest in that! The returns in the long term will be incalculable.’
What makes the cutbacks even more painful is that in recent years there has been a great deal of paring away of physical education in schools and fewer and fewer qualified teachers are being employed. For many children, this means the loss of good motor and sport development, exactly what they need for lifelong sport participation.
We should not forget that childhood and adolescence is the most important time to develop good motor skills. Visscher: ‘If you want people to continue to take exercise, then I’m convinced that the biggest investment has to be at primary school age, particularly between the ages of four and eight. That’s the period when the brain and motor skills develop incredibly fast.’
Exercising properly and regularly is not only important from a health point of view – good motor skills also influence social personality characteristics and one’s cognitive level. ‘Children with good motor skills score more highly on their Cito maths test. What you also see is that talented sporters more often attend HAVO or VWO schools than the national average. ‘There appears to be a relationship between being good at sports and doing well at school.’
In many municipalities and provinces, the budgets are being cut back. Some municipalities, for example Groningen, have indicated that they are going to freeze their sport budget. ‘Even that is actually much too little’, is Visscher’s opinion. ‘There are too few opportunities for children and youth to participate optimally in sport or physical education. I’m in favour of a system where participation in sport and the opportunity to develop your motor skills are offered for free. The cutbacks are probably going to make everything more expensive – an incredibly short-term solution!’
One concrete result of the cutbacks will be that sports clubs will be subsidized less, which means they will have to raise their subscriptions, Visscher expects. ‘That will hit children from families that usually pay little attention to getting enough exercise the hardest – situations where the subscription fee to join a sports club is quite a high investment.’
In addition, cutbacks will lead to poorer maintenance of the sports facilities. This will also mean a reduction in the number of sports clubs, thinks Visscher. ‘It will affect small clubs that need the grants to survive the most.’ In his view this will be a major problem in small villages.
According to Visscher, the most ideal situation would be children being given physical education every day by a qualified teacher. ‘Physical education should be a proper school subject, with attention to all kinds of motor skills. You’d start off with hopping, bending and jumping and move on to more complicated skills like catching and throwing. Just as in other subjects, you’d gradually move towards skills that children can master at a certain age and that will positively influence long-term sport participation.’
Chris Visscher (Zwolle, 1950) was a Physical Education teacher and trainer at FC Groningen football club. He studied Educational Science at the University of Groningen Since 1990 he has been working for the Human Movement Sciences discipline group in Groningen, of which he became Chair in 2007. He is professor by special appointment of Youth Sport. He concentrates on talent development and the relationship between sport and education. In addition, he is an external advisor for the Nederlandse Bond voor Aangepast Sporten [Netherlands Association for Adapted Sports], for the top-level sector of NOC*NSF, for the Hanze Institute for Sport Studies at Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen and for the Institute for Sport Studies at HAN University of Applied Sciences.
More information: Chris Visscher
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