WEEKENDER: We should celebrate sporty youngsters
11:05am Saturday 5th July 2014 in News
CYNICS among us will be saying that with Andy Murray crashing out of Wimbledon, it is a good job it is a World Cup finals year, to provide a boost in the battle to get children out and playing sport.
Rather than as sporting occasions to enjoy in themselves, major events such as Wimbledon, the World Cup, or an Olympics, are seen increasingly as opportunities to spur on our allegedly indolent youth to abandon their games consoles and get healthier and fitter.
That connection is to an extent a natural one, as the annual phenomenon of busier tennis clubs in the weeks during and shortly after Wimbledon demonstrates.
Athletics clubs appear to have been busier in the couple of years since the London Olympics, and cycling appears to have enjoyed a considerable ‘bounce’ since the heroics of Team GB during the same games.
Still, barely a week goes by without a story appearing somewhere, this newspaper included, in which someone voices concerns about young people not doing enough exercise, not being healthy or fit enough.
I have on occasion, written them.
And it would be easy in this context to imagine a nation of slovenly youth, feet draped over the worn arms of sofas, guzzling pop and crisps – an army of them scratching their bellies, burping, and frying their brains with a dangerous cocktail of daytime TV programmes.
Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that you do not have to look too far or too long to discover examples of these young folk.
But this grim scenario is one that conveniently omits to mention that there are countless thousands of young people, from very young children to late-teens, who do spend considerable amounts of time pursuing sporting interests, either officially, through clubs, or unofficially, on our recreation grounds and parkland.
I don’t wish to play down the dangers of obesity, and all the other potential problems that can arise in part as a consequence of sedentary lifestyles.
But there is another, far more active aspect of young people’s lives that deserves to be celebrated, and perhaps used as an example to spur on others.
It is an inevitable product of our celebrity culture that big sporting names are used to promote healthy, active lifestyles.
But surely it is worth considering that a great number of the young people we want to encourage to get more active, might be inspired as much as by their contemporaries than by their global sporting heroes.
It is fine to have national or global sporting magnificence to admire and aspire to, but more realistic examples of sporting excellence, or even plain old health and fitness, are likely to exist closer to home.
And again, it is all about balance.
I loved sport and being active when I was growing up – athletics at school in the summer, football in winter when we coped with pitches the youth of today would not even consider playing on, and anyway teachers and clubs would not now let them anywhere near.
Cricket, rugby – albeit only in school – cycling miles to go swimming, I pursued these activities for years.
But I also remember spending hours watching television, or just chatting with my friends.
At this point, I’m sorry if I suddenly come over as all pipe-and-slippers, but “when I were a lad” we did not have games consoles, an annual Fifa or Pro Evolution Soccer, or kill-fest entertainments like Call Of Duty, phenomena that today are regularly cited as contributors to youngsters’ increasingly slothful lifestyles.
But believe me, we also had a considerable capacity for being busy doing nothing.
Also increasingly peddled these days is the tool of studying school class photos from 30, 40 or more years ago, and those of more recent times, and comparing how few overweight children there were then, against now.
It is all a bit basic and negative.
Is it too much to ask that every now and then – and certainly more often than we do at the moment – we celebrate the sporting efforts of the children who are out there, expending their energy in positive ways?
I stress their sporting efforts, as much as their achievements.
The latter suggests they need to attain some honour as a result of their pursuit of a sport they enjoy, but really it should be more about doing their best.
They are out there, you really do not have to look too hard – and it is inspiring to watch them in action.