Recently, I met Prabhat Kumar, a class VIII student of a government school in Bengaluru. He wants to refine his athletic skills in order to realise his dream of winning an Olympic medal for the country. However, the 12-year-old lad does not have an opportunity due to a lack of a playground in his school.
More than 100 such institutions in the urban areas do not have designated play spaces for children. Sports academies and specialised training to tap their talent is mostly a distant dream. Parents, teachers and academicians know that if a child does not learn to read and write as part of an early development, he or she will find it difficult to do so as an adult. The same goes for movement skills, which if not mastered on time may result in a sedentary lifestyle in adults.
And in India, with fewer children developing physical literacy – the ability to use mind and body for physical activities - this despair seems to be greater for future generations.
However, it’s time to change that perception for a better shot at a bright future.
A sport is rarely at the top of an average person’s agenda. That includes athletes and their families. Because for students, sports has always taken a backseat vis a vis education, because of the notion that sport doesn’t bring the money that is required to run a family.
PE is crucial
Physical education(PE) ensures the holistic development of children and youth. As nurturing their physical, social and emotional health and intellectual well-being are imperative. Besides, sports is one of the tools used to gauge the health and potential of a population at any given point in time.
According to the Annual School Health and Fitness Study 2016, about 34-39% students have low body mass index (BMI) and one in four children doesn’t have the flexibility that is desirable for his or her age. That’s because schools often do not include the required number of PE sessions in the timetable — at least three a week — that is needed for the overall physical development of the child.
India may be pegged as the next superpower, but we are failing as a nation when it comes to the health of our citizens. According to several health reports, one in every three Indians will either be a coronary patient or a diabetic by 2030, due to their unhealthy and inactive lifestyle. Physical inactivity is also identified as one of the major leading risk factors for global mortality, accounting for 9% of deaths worldwide, out of which India alone occupies 4.2%, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). No wonder that despite being a young country and with the second largest population in the world, we stood at the 67th position among the 207 countries that participated in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Sports is part of the curriculum in all schools; however, it remains only on paper and there is little importance given to its practice.
The problem doubles up when schools refrain from encouraging students and parents do not believe in the sportsmanship of their child.
In urban cities, if schools do not meet sporting requirements, parents turn to external coaching, especially for sports such as swimming, tennis, football or badminton. However, it comes at a cost, and not everyone is willing or able to pay for it. It contributes to an environment where lower-income families remain out of the game.
It is crucial to understand that the field of sports deserves as much attention and sincerity as academics do.
Make it a lifestyle
It is time sports is looked at as a part of everyday instead of an indulgence. Here are some suggestions on how to include it in our lifestyle:
Children need to be exposed to any and every sport, based on their age. If schools find themselves incapable of imparting physical literacy at their level, they must consider support from established sports authorities to engage their students and inculcate a habit of fitness. Such an exposure can help the child identify the sport that suits them best.
The benefits of physical literacy and sports are many, but the general population is simply not aware. There is a need to promote the concept and benefits of sports in the society so that people are aware of its positive impact on their health and productivity. Parents, teachers need to be made aware of the positive impact of sports, and the idea of taking up sports as a career, so as to inculcate a sporting culture amongst young people.
The best way to include fitness in one’s routine is to lead by example. There is no ‘right time’ to pick up a sport, so parents need to be motivated to play themselves, to pave the way for the next generation & develop an interest in physical activity.
When a child is familiarised with sports at every step, it is easy for him or her to make the transition towards being physically active. Government agencies and respective federations need to work hand in hand to promote and incentivise community-based sports activities, along with conceptualisation and implementation of sustainable interventions in sports and games.
Sports should be viewed as an activity that lays emphasis on participation. Once that is achieved, it will lead to several benefits for the individual, the team and society. It would, in turn, have a spill-over effect, with youngsters choosing sports as a career. One doesn’t have to start big to make an impact, even a small beginning, if consistent, can make a big difference.
As someone rightly said, “Play a sport. It will teach you how to win honourably, lose gracefully, respect authority, work with others, manage your time and stay out of trouble.”
(The author is a sportsperson,
journalist and academician)