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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Some barriers to effective injury prevention in sports and recreation

Are we losing the battle for effective injury prevention in sports and recreation? Is this because of changes that are happening in society that are beyond our control? Are there things that we can do to wrestle back control?

I do not set out to offer any answers in this article. While I have opinions as to what can be done, my intention is to add fuel to the fires of discussion.

New Zealand Society

The erosion of the traditional weekend and the 9-5 working day

With more and more parents working longer hours and not having the traditional time off over the Saturday and Sunday, organised sport suffers terribly. This means children do less after school sport and less sport in the weekends. Fewer parents are available to help out, including coaching, refereeing and officiating.

This means we are producing unfit, poorly skilled kids who are at much serious risk of injury doing disorganised activity, like jumping off rooftops and riding bikes at breakneck speed down mountain-sides

The Break up of the family

This causes huge financial stresses on the family which means the children caught up in the mess are less involved in organised sport and recreation. The single parent charged with the bulk of care is pressed for time. Even if sport was an option, this may not happen because the weekends are the usual time for being shipped off to the non-custodial parent. A treat at MacDonald’s is more likely to happen than participating in obesity fighting organised weekend sport.

Absent fathers

Each day when I run alongside my little boy as he rides his bike to and from school, I ask, “Where have all the men gone?” Are they invisible? There is only one male teacher at his school and he is the Principal. Boys and girls need male role models, starting with fathers who are active, daily participants in their lives.

Fathers tend to do more rough and tumble activities with their children than their mothers. Like little bear cubs, little kids need this kind of boisterous activity to develop essential motor skills, as well as learning when to back off to avoid hurting themselves and others. It is all too common to see both young men and women who have not learned these essential behavioural limits. Fathers are very good at teaching this. But they have to be around.

Fathers are more inclined to throw a ball and to be involved in sports teams, clubs and coaching. Fathers are essential sports and recreation safety management role models for their boys and girls. Too many children miss out on this exposure. If Dad is not around to teach their child how to safely ride a bike down a steep slope, who will they learn from? What happens when the little boy grows up and buys his first motorbike? Mother was there but she was too busy driving them to and from school, doing the laundry and attending the second job to pay for the babysitting.

Coaching

The demise of the club

I was once told by a senior sports and recreation official that one club or society closes every day in NZ. This is disastrous. For example, the majority of tennis courts in New Zealand now sprout weeds or are now dotted with cheap apartments. Where have the children gone who used to populate the tennis courts after school and weekends?

As clubs disappear, so does organised sport and coaching structures. It is replaced by disorganised sporting and recreation activities that are without proper coaching programmes and safety management.

Busy parents and expensive programmes

Stressed, busy, financially pressured parents are not available to help organise sporting and recreation activities. This is causing an ongoing erosion of the volunteer base that is the backbone of NZ sport and recreation. It is being replaced only where those parents can afford it, by professionals, including commercial programmes. Many parents cannot afford to have their children participate in these programmes.

The dismantling of generic coaching certification

As of December 2006, SPARC shuts down the Coaching New Zealand Level One and Two coaching education and certification programmes. (It scrapped the impressive level Three course in 2002 and the rest is in a state of disrepair).

The responsibility for coaching education is being shifted from a centrally administered generic coaching course to individual sports codes to organise themselves. I do not agree with this. In SPARC’s defence, they did inherit a programme that had been steadily run into the dirt over many years and efforts to resuscitate it were going to require considerable time and effort. Effective coaching, including sports injury prevention, requires an army of volunteer coaches who have demonstrated competency in the basics of coaching. Shutting down this generic coaching programme is a mistake.

90% of coaching is generic. So, a good swimming coach could be a good rugby coach so long as he or she completes a couple of modules on the specifics of rugby. Clive Woodward, coach of the victorious English World Cup Rugby team, is switching to professional football. There is no need to repeat the educational modules on child development, nutrition, physiology, and psychology and safety management – other than the 10% that is specific to the sport in question.

Parents follow their children as they move from one sport to another and it is these parents who become the volunteer coaches. If parents are going to have to attend and pass (and pay) a coaching course that takes several days of their time each time their children swap sports, they simply won’t do it. They may be prepared to do it once and then give up a few hours once or twice a year to learn the 10% that is specific to the sport they are switching to.

The big sports like soccer and rugby have the size and the resources and international supporting structures to be able to look after their own coaching programmes. The same cannot be said of the majority of NZ’s sports codes which struggle just to survive. Coaching programmes that are developed today will mostly fall into states of disrepair as time passes. This is the nature of NZ sport, unless the programmes are maintained and driven by a central authority that also exercises responsibility for quality control.

I have had a lot of contact over the years with coaches and athletes in the USA. From what I can gather, the USA is a coaching disaster because there is no centralised structure. Everybody does their own thing and this applies to most sports. There is no consistency in practice, or in the way that knowledge and experience is passed on. They have serious problems and these show in their performances on the international stage. Outside of a handful of sports, the USA punches way below it weight for its population and rich resources. And where it does excel, this success is often reliant on talented imports.

For the sake of injury prevention, let alone anything else, let’s not go down the same treacherous path that has been taken by the USA.

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