http://www.a-starsports.co.uk/organic/uploads/2014/03/img_3199-1050x754.jpg

Children’s perception of physical activity

During an A-Star Sports holiday club in Chester, 67 participating children aged 4-11 were interviewed about their physical activity. Several anecdotes, ‘knock knock’ jokes, toilet stops and serious deliberations later, we had some fascinating answers. The results provide a unique insight into children’s perception of physical activity, where they consider themselves to be the most and least active, what they enjoy the most about being active and their favourite ways to do this.

What is being active?

Having interviewed both girls (34%) and boys (66%) in the sample, there were four main responses to the open question ‘What is being active?’:

  • 75% gave the all-encompassing definition of ‘running around games’
  • 19% mentioned ‘doing sports’ or a specific sport
  • 3% said ‘doing something that makes you tired’
  • 3% didn’t know what being active meant (all between the ages of 4-6)

This indicates a broad understanding of being active but also an interesting focus on ‘games’ above the notion of ‘sports’.

Where children see themselves as the most active

For the next question – ‘Where are you the most active?’, the children were given five options to choose from and the results were as follows:

  • 42% extra-curricular activities/clubs
  • 25% school (made up of 24% playground activities and 1% PE)
  • 18% home
  • 9% other (e.g. parties, playbarns, dog walking)
  • 6% local play area

As experienced coaches of extra-curricular activities/clubs we expected these to be somewhere near the top, that goes without saying. What we didn’t necessarily expect was for only 1% of children to consider school PE in this light. Figures from a school sport survey carried out by MPs (the Education Select Committee) have suggested that there has been a drop in the number of pupils receiving two hours of PE each week[i], finding that only 43 per cent of primary and secondary school teachers had reported their students as spending at least this time on weekly curriculum PE. Importantly, though, an IOE study has found that ‘children who were active outside of school were more likely to feel they did well at school sport and enjoy it’[ii], so participation in extra-curricular activities/clubs as well as an increase in school sport provision (as is the government’s current emphasis) is a huge positive.

Another positive, and reflecting back to the first question, is that a good number of primary aged children are making the most of their time in the playground with the opportunity to play their own ‘running around games’.

The limited mention of local play areas is in line with national trends such as those reported in The Daily Mail – Children today would rather read, do chores or even do homework than play outside – and they get out half as much as their parents did[iii] and The Telegraph – Children no longer enjoy playing outdoors[iv]. Another dimension potentially comes from an altogether different headline: Parents’ anxieties keep children playing indoors: Fears about traffic and strangers leading to ‘creeping disappearance’ of youngsters from parks’[v]

Where children see themselves as the least active

For this the children were asked the open question ‘Where are you the least active?’. This produced four key answers:

  • 58% home
  • 31% school
  • 9% other
  • 2% don’t know

On digging a little deeper, home is seen predominently as a place for relaxation (examples included playing on the computer, xBox or wii, watching the TV, listening to an iPod and playing with LEGO) and school as a place where you learn and ‘sit down lots’ as a result.

Highlights of being active

To establish the children’s views on the most enjoyable part of being active, they were given four options to choose from with predictable but nonetheless thought-provoking results:

  • 54% it’s fun
  • 27% time with friends and family
  • 13% it feels good
  • 6% other

This tells us that tapping into what’s considered fun is crucial. Given the earlier emphasis on ‘games’, and backing up our experience as coaches, we know that ‘running around games’ and adapted versions of sports delivered as ‘games’ are key to pressing the fun button.

Critically, ‘time with friends and family’ is also a core factor. IOE research found that ‘parental and family influences were the most influential factors in children’s participation in sport outside of school’[vi], so this is very important for both enjoyment and engagement all round. Equally important is the management (and we emphasise management rather than exclusion) of competition – traditional ‘emphasising performance and encouraging peer comparisons of ability’[vii] can really reduce fun but skilled coaching can guide children through individual challenges and inspire them to continue on with a sporting journey of discovery.

Favourite ways to be active

The children were asked openly about their favourite ways to be active and this elicited five core answers:

  • 49% sport (some naming a particular sport)
  • 43% running around games
  • 4% other
  • 3% outdoor play
  • 1% creating own games

Of those naming a particular sport, the most popular were:

  1. football
  2. swimming
  3. dodgeball / tennis
  4. basketball
  5. handball / hockey / rugby

Given that many of these sports are not played regularly in primary schools – and when they are, it’s often in much larger groups – the role that extra-curricular clubs can play becomes more significant. This is particularly important when the confidence to participate in and enjoy school sport can be positively linked to participation in out-of-school physical activities[viii].

In conclusion

Without a doubt, the children interviewed understand what physical activity is and that it has to be fun. To maintain fun and have an impact on longer term engagement, they want their friends and family to be involved, the opportunity to get stuck into ‘running around games’ and play a wide variety of sports both in school and as extra-curricular activities, often with a preference for the indoors.

A-Star Sports actions

Inspiring children to take part in lots of different physical activities and games, discover new sports and build a foundation from which to enjoy sport for life is our key aim.

As a result of the children’s reflections, we are producing an eBook of ‘running around games’ for children, families and local groups to play. The book will be free to download in the near future from http://www.a-starsports.co.uk/our-programme/free-resources/. Families will be able to see these games in action in our regular weekly classes, holiday clubs and parties/events.

Alongside our fully developmental multi-sports programme, we also offer a Community Support Programme to help nurseries, pre-schools, schools and local clubs/groups bring a wide variety of sporting experiences and new ideas to community-based environments: http://www.a-starsports.co.uk/about-us/community-charities/


[i] ‘Drop in numbers of pupils receiving two hours of PE per week’ by Gary Anderson – http://www.teacherswhocoach.co.uk/2013/08/02/drop-in-numbers-of-pupils-receiving-two-hours-of-pe-per-week/

[ii] ‘Parents have bigger influence on children’s enjoyment of sport than schools do, research suggests’ – Institute of Education, University of London – http://www.cls.ioe.ac.uk/news.aspx?itemid=2707&itemTitle=Parents+have+bigger+influence+on+children’s+enjoyment+of+sport+than+schools+do,+research+suggests&sitesectionid=27&sitesectiontitle=News

[iii] ‘Children today would rather read, do chores or even DO homework than play outside – and they get out half as much as their parents did’ by Katy Winter – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2307431/Children-today-read-chores-HOMEWORK-play-outside.html

[v] ‘Parents’ anxieties keep children playing indoors: Fears about traffic and strangers leading to ‘creeping disappearance’ of youngsters from parks’ by Andrew Levy – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2385722/Parents-anxieties-children-playing-indoors-Fears-traffic-strangers-leading-creeping-disappearance-youngsters-parks.html

[vi] ‘Parents have bigger influence on children’s enjoyment of sport than schools do, research suggests’ – Institute of Education, University of London – http://www.cls.ioe.ac.uk/news.aspx?itemid=2707&itemTitle=Parents+have+bigger+influence+on+children’s+enjoyment+of+sport+than+schools+do,+research+suggests&sitesectionid=27&sitesectiontitle=News

[vii] As above. ‘Parents have bigger influence on children’s enjoyment of sport than schools do, research suggests’ – Institute of Education, University of London – http://www.cls.ioe.ac.uk/news.aspx?itemid=2707&itemTitle=Parents+have+bigger+influence+on+children’s+enjoyment+of+sport+than+schools+do,+research+suggests&sitesectionid=27&sitesectiontitle=News

[viii] See (ii).