Why Your Kids’ Sports May Be Bad For Your Health
Posted by Dean Holden at May 23rd, 2016
by Jamie Strashin, 11 May 2016
Many parents put their children’s game and practices ahead of their own activities, leading some moms and dads to drop out of sports and exercise altogether. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Whether young or old, rich or poor, Canadians are less active these days. According to a new study, our participation in sports is at an all-time low. But why? In the second of two parts, we look at some reasons why adults are dropping out of sports. Part 1 examined some of the negative effects of our approach to youth athletics.
It’s getting late in the work day and Jason Kimelman eyes the ticking clock. He’s got a game to get to. Or is it a practice? It’s hard to keep track.
It’s not his own activities that Jason is trying to juggle. It’s the schedules of his three sons. Turns out tonight his 10-year-old has a baseball practice. Tomorrow, surely, it’ll be something else.
When it comes to sports, Jason and his family are all in. Whether it’s select hockey or competitive soccer or baseball, most nights are spent at the rink or field.
“My dad looks at me and thinks I’m crazy,” says Jason, who also runs a busy Toronto law practice. “I played hockey at a high level and I know my dad or mom were not nearly as involved in my sporting life as we are today.”
Jason says he and his wife wouldn’t have it any other way. He says his boys — ages six, eight and 10 — love what they do, and he insists he would pull the plug tomorrow if the kids wanted to quit. In the meantime, he’s willing to sacrifice.
“I stopped playing hockey with my friends because I would rather be on the ice with my kid,” he says. “I would rather watch my kid play baseball than play baseball myself. I would love to play, but if one of my three kids has a game, I’d rather be with him.”
Pushed to the sidelines
At a time when sports appear to be more popular than ever, participation rates across age groups are in decline, according to a new study prepared by Vital Signs and the True Sport Foundation.
“Eighty-five per cent of Canadians agree that sport participation builds stronger communities, but at the same time we are seeing a dramatic drop in sport participation across the country,” says Lee Rose of Vital Signs.
Like Jason, many adults are staying on the sidelines as they struggle to fit their own activities around those of their busy children. A shrinking number of us, it seems, are able to get Jimmy to practice, Susan to tennis, work a full day and still have time to keep ourselves healthy.
Some families can pull it off. Jason says his wife, a teacher, wakes up every day at 6 a.m. to work out. He also finds time to exercise, but it takes discipline and requires making use of almost every available minute in the day.
“Whether it’s six in the morning or at lunch or after taking my kids to sports, I have to work out every day,” Jason says.
Not every family is so dedicated — or so lucky. As many struggle to balance busy sports calendars, the physical health of somebody in the family often suffers because of it.
“People often tell me, ‘Doctor, I don’t have time to exercise. I’m too busy taking my kids to sports,'” says Dr. Doron Eisen, a family physician in the Toronto suburb of Pickering. “The irony really struck me. The emphasis on kids’ sports has completely wiped out parents’ ability to keep themselves healthy.”
Eisen has three children of his own who played sports, so he can relate to his patients. He says the effects can extend beyond the physical.
“I would be clock watching and really feel my stress level rising, because we all know how coaches won’t tolerate players being late,” Eisen recalls. “It put a concrete ceiling on my day, which I found to be very stressful.”
Many simply give up. The study says sports participation rates in all age groups — 15 to 55-plus — are declining, while more Canadian adults than ever are watching other people participate in sports.
“I know for myself, [my own activity] is the first thing to go off my schedule,” says Karri Dawson, one of the study’s contributors. “When you take family commitments and you take work commitments, usually you feel sport and physical activity are the first thing you can cut out of your calendar.”
If you really want to remain active, making time for it has to be a priority, says Kristi Herold, a mother of three and the founder and CEO of the Toronto Sport and Social Club.
“If people use children as an excuse, I say you’re looking for an excuse not to play sports, because you can bring your kids to games, get a babysitter, you can prioritize,” she says. “Susan goes to the gym early because John has a game that night and vice versa. You can make excuses to not work out, make whatever excuses you want, but if it’s really important to you, you are going to make it happen.”
Herold’s company, in its 20th year, offers almost 25 different sports and is most popular with young singles in Toronto, especially newcomers to the city.
While parents may not have as much free time as many of the younger players in her various leagues, Herold says parents should devote as much energy to their own activities as they do to shepherding their children around to their games and practices.
“My daughter will say, ‘Can you drive me to school this morning?’ and I’ll say ‘I can’t, sweetie, because I’ve got a meeting at the office at 9:30 so I need to get my run in. You can take [public transit] to school.'”
Far from being selfish, Herold says, setting boundaries like this actually benefits children.
“My kids see that health is a priority in my life. I want them to see that I’m working out every day,” she says. “They see me playing tennis, riding my bike, running, doing yoga. It’s important to lead by example.”
Easy for her to say, you may be thinking, but difficult for many parents in this country to actually pull off.
Eisen says it’s all about how Canadian adults think about the importance of staying active.
“If I can’t get to the gym, I get on my bike in the basement. It’s just such a priority for me. A lot of people have trouble making that leap,” he says. “This is not a bonus but a basic need. And I think if people have that attitude they will make it happen.
“It just might not be particularly fun.”