According to the World Health Organisation, physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide following high blood pressure, smoking and elevated blood sugar levels, contributing to around 3.2 million deaths worldwide per year. Dr Glen Hagemann (The Sharks medical team) comments on the value of sport.

Levels of inactivity and obesity amongst our young people are particularly high and organised sport at school is often promoted for its health and fitness benefits.  However, sport plays a far greater role in our society, especially in shaping the future of our youth.

We know that sport, at its best, can build character and promote the virtues of honesty, respect, humility, selfless teamwork, discipline, dedication and commitment to a greater cause.  We know it can transcend political and racial barriers and the lessons learnt from it can spill over into the classroom, the board room and the greater community, contributing to shaping the future of South Africa and its citizens.  No more powerful an example of this was the experience of Nelson Mandela, 50 million South Africans and the 1995 Rugby World Cup; an experience which for many will remain etched in their memories.

We need to acknowledge that sport is one of our nation’s most valuable assets, and the values it espouses need to be nurtured from a young age.  We need to embrace the role that sport plays at schools, and in society at large, but also understand the threats it faces and fight for its integrity and value as a number of issues currently threaten to tear at its very fabric.

Some of these issues include a “win at all costs” mentality and many are willing to overstep the mark to achieve this goal.  This willingness to prioritise winning at the expense of ethics and our young athletes’ health must be addressed.  Included in this are excessive adult pressure and expectation, the use by school sportsmen of banned and illegal substances and the “poaching” by schools of elite athletes from competing schools.  There are many others.

The simple notion of “fun” is what attracts young people to various sporting disciplines; this together with enhanced self-esteem, the thrill of winning and the camaraderie of participation keeps them engaged.  However, once the fun of sport is lost, so too are participation levels.

Research shows that coaches generally are considered to have the greatest influence on today’s young athletes; this makes them, perhaps even more so than parents, the guardians of school sport. Every coach should ask him or herself daily if they always have their players’ best interests at heart and whether or not they are being successful in this role by not bowing to negative external pressures.

As parents, we also have a role to play in positively influencing the ethos of school sports.  It may be a lofty and ambitious objective, but it is certainly worth the effort; if we can all get it right, we may just be doing something significant in shaping the future of our children, and possibly even the future of this country, in some small way.

Dr Glen Hagemann
T: @GlenHagemann

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