Creating an active generation

 In last weekend’s edition of the Observer on Sunday, Ron Shillingford took a look at the risks of inactivity in children and the impact it could have on Cayman in the coming years. Yet breaking the chain if inactivity is easier said than done.
   Many sporting organisations on Island have junior development programmes which start at a very young age. Much of the development work done in these programmes is not sport specific, rather aiming to develop skills many inactive children lack, such as major motor development skills and social skills.
   However, getting kids active is not something that can be forced onto unwilling children. It is vital to find a sport or activity that engages the child.
   Any sport that can be enjoyed with friends is already a step in the right direction. This does not necessarily mean a team sport, as most individual sports can be taught in a group context.
   The development of important skills through fun activities is a vital component of any junior development programme and is the best way to keep children interested in a sport.
   According to Richard Adams, director of rugby at the Cayman Rugby Union, the skills learnt in the youth development programmes extend far beyond merely preparing children for better performance on the sporting field.
   “Kids start here from two years up. Physiologically and motor development wise the magical years are five to ten. Kids are most intuitive to learning these skills at this time for any sport so you want them active to develop hand-eye (coordination), foot-eye (coordination) and balance,” said Adams.
   Adams believes that inactivity is just another habit that children pick up and that it can be countered by activity early on.
   “Fitness is a habit that has to be formed as much as loafing does, the earlier children are active the more likely they will choose an active lifestyle,” he said.
   The skills learnt in sport can also be applied to life off the field.
   “Many of life’s challenges can be dealt with using strategies we use in sport such as goal setting, team work, personal and team performance evaluation, leadership, ethics, discipline, honesty, modification to improve, et cetera, so good sportsmen are typically good citizens, strong leaders, effective communicators, excellent students and strong problem solvers,” said Adams.
   According to Ray Singh, athletic director at King’s Sports Centre, keeping kids interested can be a challenge. However, in the junior roller hockey programme the organisers seem to have found a successful formula.
   “We do a number of factors to draw new players into the sport, but the primary method is by keeping the fun in the programme. The kids genuinely love the sport,” said Singh.
   The junior roller hockey programme follows a multi-tier development programme, starting with a learn to skate programme which is completely focussed on fun, but at the same time teaches the skills necessary to join the hockey league. From there children can progress through various age groups all the way up to the touring team which will compete in events overseas.
   The Cayman Islands Little League has one of the longest running junior programmes on the Island and thanks to sponsor support is the biggest free programme as well.
   With some 500 children participating in the programme as well as around 100 volunteers, Little League has had a big impact on the lives on many children over the years.
   The swimming programme is another tiered sports programme that teaches not only sport, but a vital life skill. From learn to swim all the way to the national swimming squad, children build friendships that last a lifetime while also developing their fitness. Due to its popularity, there is often a waiting list for joining the programme, as it, like so many other programmes, is limited by the availability of facilities. The current 25 metre pool is not really big enough to accommodate all the children who would like to be part of the programme as well as the national team members. Unless a bigger pool is constructed to be used in conjunction with the current pool, the expansion of the programme is limited.
   Many other sporting organisations have also made great strides in youth development, with the South Sound Squash Club boasting a very strong youth development programme under Dan Kneipp that has benefitted greatly from sponsorships as well as international events like the Cayman Open which was hosted at Camana Bay recently.
   Sports with inter school components can also utilise friendly inter school rivalries to draw children into the sport, with youth football being a prime example.
   However, even though sporting organisations can do a lot to counter the rising inactivity among Cayman’s youth, much of what needs to happen to effect the change, needs to happen at home.