Half of Irish kids can’t kick a ball properly

Half of Irish kids can’t kick a ball properly
One step forward, two steps back for kids writes Róise McGagh

In a modern life, the average Irish person lives quite well. The shops are full of food, people are safe from conflict, rarely face severe weather in comparison to many other countries and the world is at our fingertips; with free travel and technology we can now go anywhere.

However, have we stopped to take a look at what kind of affect recent advancements in our society could be having on upcoming generations?

Last week a report from a Dublin City University study was released. It found that a large amount of primary school children on the island of Ireland are physically illiterate; one in four can’t run properly.

Researchers at the DCU The Moving Well-Being Well project carried out the research all over Ireland with over two thousand primary school kids. They also found half cannot kick a ball properly; and less than one in every five children can throw a ball.

It was also noted in the findings that skills categorised as fundamental movement skills (FMS) plateaued and stopped progressing at age 10. These skills include running, jumping, catching and kicking.

The kinds of activities boys and girls take up are also quite different, with the girls taking up gymnastics, dance and the boys tending to take part in rugby and soccer. Both tended to be involved in GAA.

Another recent study, the Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity (CSPPA, 2018) study found that only 17% of Irish primary children engage in the recommended one hour per day of moderate to vigorous activity.

Dr Stephen Behan from the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, DCU and DCU School of Health and Human Performance speaks to The Irish Catholic about the reasoning behind the study and why it’s so important that young kids get moving.

Why is physical literacy even important? Not everyone is naturally good at sport but that might have more to do with how much practice you got as a child than pure luck.

“Put it this way,” says Stephen, “if you’re kicking a ball and you think you’re good at it, you’ll be confident enough to do it in front of friends or your family or whoever.

“If you’re confident in doing it, you’ll be more motivated to take part; if you’re more motivated to take part, you’ll end up doing it more often, which means you’ll get better at it, which means your competence increases, which drives your confidence, which drives your motivation, and that’s what we call being physically literate.”

Rather than develop an exercise programme based off of data from other countries around the world that would be culturally different to Ireland, the research team went out and collected that data for an Irish context.

So far the findings have been used to create some pilot programmes, designed to develop the physical skills of primary school children. “The results of the pilots are very positive and obviously they’re not published yet, but the idea would be, in the next phase of it do a more nationwide trial” said Stephen, “and we would make sure that the stuff we are looking to do works – not just in Dublin schools, in the urban environment.”

“We want to make sure that what we have is adaptive to the teachers in schools and the environment they’ll have and it will work out in any context,” says Stephen

Of course it is important that children exercise outside of school but the research teams are focusing in school so they can make a real impact. Stephen says the main aim of their research is not only to help out kids but to facilitate teachers.

“Primary school teachers are heroes. I don’t know how they do it they have 12 or 13 cirriculum subjects to get in a week and I think it’s a 27 hour week then you take away the lunchtimes and breaks.

“What were trying to do is put together resources and a package that makes teachers’ lives easier as best as we possibly can, as they’re under enough pressure as it is.”

The aim is to implement an easy, effective programme that can slot into school time, clubs or even at home, and improves the data that currently shows Ireland as falling behind as far as children’s FMS goes. Not a simple feat.

“If we can get that in a really broad range of simple skills in kids, then as they get older they will be able to take part in whatever activity or sport that they want. They’ll have that foundational level of movement to be allowed to try whatever it is they want to do.”

The basics of why exercise is good are plain to see. “There is a lot of attention on childhood obesity and low participation rates in sport – a focus on the fundamental movement skills in young children could be key in tackling both,” says Stephen.

The NHS states exercise, for kids, can improve fitness, provide an opportunity to socialise, increase concentration, improve academic scores, self-esteem and posture, build a stronger heart, bones and healthier muscles, encourage healthy growth and development, lower stress levels and encourage a better night’s sleep.

{{At the moment we are failing our kids badly, and that is a very sad situation”.

Dr Sarahjane Belton, another researcher on the project defined just how serious the results they have been seeing are: “It is no surprise that the 2018 follow up of the national CSPPA study shows a decline in physical activity participation rates of children by a further 2% since 2010. At primary school, less than one in every 5 is active enough to sustain health.

“At the moment we are failing our kids badly, and that is a very sad situation”.

Making sure children are physically literate might be the best way to encourage more young people to take up the sport long term.

Physical health isn’t the only benefit as stated, it has been fully proven to impact mental health; a colleague of Stephen’s, Dr Cameron Peers, a psychologist, is looking into the motivation and the wellbeing side of these FMS.

“Physical literacy is hugely linked to preventing mental health issues, it is seen as an underpinning mechanism that allows the benefits of physical activity towards mental health to be seen,” says Stephen.

“If we can improve the most basic skills at a young age that will set the kids up with the tools they need to be active for life.”

Stephen says they are unsure about why exactly Irish children are lacking basic skills in comparison to many of our European neighbours.

“What we do know is kids physical activity has dropped over the last 20 years or so.

“We don’t know exactly why that is, some people would say its increased screen time, sedentary lifestyle but I suppose society has changed a little bit. You don’t see kids playing out on the street or on the road as much anymore, so I would say there’s a multitude of things impacting that,” he says, but his team is not examining the causes.

“What we’re looking to do is raise awareness, these basic skills are easy to develop with a little bit of practice.”