Winning VS Development: not even close…

This post is the first of what I intend to be a bit of a series on youth sport and kind of picks up where A Sporting Chance left off.  I want to chat briefly about winning vs. development in child and youth sport and share a wee epiphany with you. Although this has long been a topic close to my heart, I have been doing much more thinking and reading on the topic as preparation for the Re-Imagining School Sport pre-conference session that Vicki Harber (@vharber) and I planned for the #Banff2015 National HPE Conference. The day was full of great conversations and evidence to push some of the boundaries of what we know is good for kids in sport.  As well, two recent articles on youth sport caught my attention this week and are worth the time for you to read them (now or later- it’s up to you).

Where the “elite” kids shouldn’t meet.  Tim Keown, ESPN.  All about the marketing and the myth of elite sport for preteens.  “This is the age of the youth-sports industrial complex, where men make a living putting on tournaments for 7-year-olds, and parents subject their children to tryouts and pay good money for the right to enter into it.”

Playing youth sports about having fun, developing skills.  Jason Gregor, The Edmonton Journal.  This article is all about why a 9 year old hockey player quit playing spring hockey and the letter his dad wrote explaining the decision. “…as a nine-year-old, you have only played two shifts in the game, no matter how important that game is … it is time to have a talk with yourself and re-evaluate why we do this.”

Full disclosure: I am extremely biased on this topic and believe that there shouldn’t even be a debate. In my mind, if you are involved in child or youth sport in any way, shape or form (parent, coach, ref, etc.) and consider placing winning some banner, trophy or medal ahead of the development of individuals and teams – you should give your head a shake. Just thought you should know…

In this installment, I want to address the culture of “my kid is really good and therefore deserves to play much more so we can win”.  Kinda what both of the previous two article’s address.

I once chatted with a parent who was bemoaning the fact that her daughter was playing the same amount as other kids on her team. She shared with me that, in addition to the $1,400 team fees that all the kids played, she was also spending $800/month on private training and weekend clinics (her daughter was playing U15 volleyball). In her mind, her daughter should be playing more because she was spending more on training and was “better” than the other girls. This got me thinking…

Let’s look at a professional sports franchise – often held up as the pinnacle of sport achievement.  The Edmonton Oilers, not currently contending for Lord Stanley’s Cup (but things are looking up!), are such a team.  According to http://www.hockey-reference.com, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made $6,000,000 last season and averaged 20:38 minutes a game.  In contrast, Luke Gazdic made $800,000 and averaged 7:23 minutes.  Hmmm…  Here comes the epiphany – wait for it!

Since there are a certain number of people who want kids to play “just like the big leagues”, why don’t we model that?  Since our kids DON’T get paid to play, what about if kids that PLAY MORE – PAY MORE! PLAY LESS – PAY LESS! We could have a sliding scale based on minutes / sets, etc.  That way, those that want their kids to play more can pay for that privilege!  Brilliant, eh?

Sounds odd but if you really want your team to focus on winning, wouldn’t this be the best way to go?  (insert sarcastic emoticon here)

Of course I am being facetious, however, I am using this example to ask why we focus so much on winning in youth sport? Kids really don’t need to focus on winning – sure, anyone would rather win than lose BUT – their care does not last… There has been LOTS written about what kids value in sport – winning is not at the top of the list. Winning should not be a high stakes game for kids.

So.  You GET PAID to play? Then playing time can differ.

If YOU PAY, then you should PLAY!

School sport, youth sport – anything that claims to be developmental and “for the kids” should be held accountable to actually follow through and be “for the kids”. Why the focus on banners, titles, trophies, winning as the main goal? I have yet to hear someone with a valid argument on why (in a “developmental system”) – please let me know if you do!

I could tell you more stories on this theme but I’d rather post this for now and then take a look in the pot I have stirred up…

Rebranding

Rebranding

As some of you may know, I had the distinct pleasure of co-chairing the recent joint conference2015_CMYKHealth and Physical Education Council / Physical and Health Education Canada, National Health and Physical Education Conference – A Physical Literacy Uprising, in beautiful Banff, Alberta, Canada (let’s just go w #Banff2015 from now on though…). I could share a lot about #Banff2015: the 867 passionate delegates, the crazy and fun socials, the variety and diversity of sessions, and much more. In fact, for an overview of the conference, presenters and presentations, check out http://www.phecanada.ca/events/conference2015/program/workshops.

However, it is really hard to replicate a conference on a blog page. I would say impossible. Fortunately, with some collaborative effort from Brent at PHE Canada and one of our keynotes, I can share a video that I hope will make you think about the way you think about exercise and physical activity (read it twice, it makes sense, really, it does). We were privileged to have Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (@YoniFreedhoff) speak to us on Friday morning on the topic of:

Rebranding Exercise: Why Exercise is the World’s Best Drug, Just Not a Weight Loss Drug

The premise of the talk is as follows: By preventing cancers, improving blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar, bolstering sleep, attention, energy and mood, and doing so much more, exercise has indisputably proven itself to be the world’s best drug – better than any pharmaceutical product any physician could ever prescribe. Sadly though, exercise is not a weight loss drug, and so long as we continue to push exercise in the name of preventing or treating adult or childhood obesity, we’ll also continue to short-change the public about the genuinely incredible health benefits of exercise, and simultaneously misinform them about the realities of long term weight management. We need to REBRAND.

Please take a moment and view the video.

I would encourage you to watch the whole 39:13, however, if you want to skip all the research evidence, jump in at about 28 minutes or so for some key points and the summary.

You may wonder why we asked someone who mostly writes about nutrition and weight management (http://www.weightymatters.ca/ – highly recommended!) and is an obesity medicine doctor to keynote a conference called A Physical Literacy Uprising. The reason lies with the way we sometimes rationalize our work as PE teachers and Physical Activity professionals: childhood obesity.

“We need more PE to combat childhood obesity.”

“We need more PA to combat childhood obesity.”

I have even heard colleagues’ state that the obesity epidemic finally makes our jobs relevant and necessary – finally we will get the respect we deserve as a profession because we can FIX this. I couldn’t disagree more.

As Yoni states in his presentation, when we tie exercise to weight loss/control/management etc. we are committing:

A dis-service to exercise – we box exercise in as weight loss instead of highlighting all the other benefits of physical activity: sleep, co-morbidities, mental health, well-being, academics, joy, etc. This aligns with my own thoughts about WHY we need to move. Movement is worth so much more than the box(es) we often place it in.

A dis-service to quality weight management – people will try stupid things when they feel exercise has “failed” them in their goals (ie. Biggest Loser. To read one of Yoni’s scathing critique of that show, click here). Incidentally, this aspect is also linked with the fallacious idea that we need to be “fit” (or at least look that way) to be effective teachers of PE (more on that here!).

From a physical literacy perspective, we need only return to the original definition:

In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the lifecourse. (Whitehead, 2010)

I have read this and other definitions of physical literacy over and over and have yet to see weight loss, weight control, weight maintenance or any other iteration therein.47158_150773548281336_8366218_n-1

Quite simply – weight loss is not the motivational piece we are looking for to get kids (or adults) active, healthy and joy-full.

Let’s REBRAND EXERCISE and get it right*.

*My apologies to those who already “get it” and therefore do not need to rebrand. Please keep on being and doing awesomeness.