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Organized Sports Do Not Make Healthy Kids

kids fun, sports game

See? Just standing around.

Kids don’t get enough exercise; hardly a news flash. But some parents could be surprised to learn that even their sports-playing sons and daughters aren’t getting the recommended amount of vigorous exercise every week.

A new study out of San Diego State University found that almost all kids who played softball, soccer and baseball didn’t get a full 60 minutes heavy-breathing-and-sweat-inducing level exercise. Most got about 45 minutes; only 2 percent of girls playing softball got the full 60 minutes. But only on practice and game days.

Jame Sallis, who authored the study, told Reuters Health that exercise isn’t the goal of most sports teams. Rather, learning and perfecting skills were the focus of most of the practices, even those lasting 3 hours, Sallis explained:

In baseball, hitting, catching and other skills require little activity. So, time spent on skills can compete for active time. The emphasis on skills may be one reason girls get such little exercise in softball.

Working on skills requires kids to stand in line and wait their turns. And in sports like softball and baseball, swinging a bat doesn’t get the heart pumping for very long.

Soccer got kids exercised an average of 14 minutes longer than the kids in the other sports. Kids 10 and younger exercised an average of 10 minutes longer than the older athletes. And boys got about 11 minutes more vigorous exercise than girls overall.

I’m actually not surprised by these researchers findings — especially with regard to baseball and softball. Those aren’t games that are played with a sustained amount of physical activity. Soccer was a little surprising, though most practices last one hour and working on skills, again, doesn’t take much energy.

I wish Sallis would have included a wider range of sports, though. I’m curious where basketball would fall — probably closer to soccer with all the line running and moving up and down the court. Although mandatory substitutions mean that, on game days, none of the players gets a full hour of vigorous playing. Swim team and water polo would be interesting to test, since those are sports where players necessarily are in constant motion.

But looking at the bigger picture, it’s definitely insight into the limitation of organized sports as the magic bullet for our inactive youth. I think some of the best activity I got as a kid was running around for hours and hours playing disorganized games and not under the supervision of a coach — or any adult, really.

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Photo: Mosieur J.

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