MY SON attended a football “come and try” session last week. He’s seven and thought it was amazing. It was. Expertly run by enthusiastic coaches from the Scottish Football Association and from the local team, Edinburgh United, all kids were included and the emphasis was on fun.
At the presentation to parents about what would be involved should the kids sign up for more sessions, the coach talked about homework. It wasn’t, as he put it, to be an essay on the beautiful game, but to play football.
It seems funny to request that the young players of the future should have to be instructed to kick a ball between training sessions and matches. Surely they’d want to. They do. The homework was really for parents, to make sure they would take their kids out so they could play football.
Funny how things change in a generation. I was 30 when my son was born. When I was his age we all played football (and other games) on the large playing fields adjacent to our school. They were not fenced in and we whiled away many a break time and lunchtime playing, continuing the moment we all got off the school bus in the afternoon.
Exercise has massive benefits for kids. It’s not just that they might score the winning goal for Scotland in a future World Cup, but in terms of health and independence, exercise is key.
Not only is exercise an obvious antidote to the obesity epidemic we currently face, it has amazing mental health benefits too. Something that is unfortunately becoming an epidemic in our young people as well.
I used to cycle to school and run before school. It was a five-mile cycle and a run in the dark and I didn’t have a phone, but it was fine. These things feel like they might never happen for my children. Which is a pity, because the benefit of exercise for me then was also about independence. Something which is so important for children.
So what changed? Well, fears have grown about danger from predatory adults and fast, heavy traffic. Our response: keep the kids indoors or with us and only allow them out with organised groups where we have tried to quell our fears by bringing in regulation, police checks and insurance.
We do seem to have created this problem for ourselves and for what? Now we have lots of red tape and kids not going out to play any more and are instead dependent on structured, organised events to be able to play sport.
Thank goodness there are people out there who give up their time to do this sort of thing, but the skill and joy of constantly being outside and kicking a ball has gone.
We no longer ever see parents calling their kids to come in at night – they’re always with them.
It needs to change, not just for the sake of football, but for the sake of our kids.