Since 2009, children and young people's participation in Swedish sports clubs has steadily declined. This applies to all age groups and genders. The Swedish Crown Princess' organization Generation Pep conducted a survey which shows that only two out of ten children between the ages of 4-17 reached the recommended amount of physical activity in 2020 and only one in ten children live a healthy life, including both diet and exercise.
Many people highlight kids' screen time and socio-economic factors as major reasons why young people don’t exercise properly. But just like when I work with a client's problem, it's rarely one reason that creates the problem. Simply replacing screen time with exercise won’t work unless there is an attractive alternative. If exercise isn’t fun or creates a community feeling, kids will not exercise.
We adults are finally beginning to realize that the sport movement needs to change. Children and young people need to have fun when they exercise and not just think about games and results. We adults need to teach our children to "just" have fun, without any kind of benefit aspect around it.
Last week I worked with a client who was very focused on combining usefulness with fun. He didn’t see the value of just having fun, he always wanted the activity to be useful as well. And let me tell you - he is not alone in this. I asked him what he go out of having fun. He replied - joy. My next question then became: So you mean there is no usefulness in joy? His answer was: when you say it like that, I notice how wrong it sounds.
There is definitely a lot of benefits with having fun. Having fun brings joy. And joy is beneficial, because it makes you a happier, more harmonious and balanced person. You spread that joy to others. Life flows easier.
It’s the same with children and sports. Exercise based on joy and doing it just for fun, create a lot of positive effects. Sport is good at taking care of those who want something, but it’s often at the expense of those who don’t have the driving force to compete.
What do children and young people want their sport to look like?
According to the Swedish magazine Aftonbladet, a recent study from last year shows that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 want to be able to influence what times, in what way and how often they train. Something that often doesn’t work with the club's specific schedules and requirements for attendance. Another survey shows that a third are completely uninterested in competing. Another study (as yet unpublished) confirms that young people increasingly don’t think competition is important. All this indicates that today’s sport is constructed in the wrong way.
I think it sounds like our children are very wise and can teach us adults something about doing things just because it is fun and joyful. Young people want to exercise and experience community in the training group, but not all the demands. It simply becomes too serious. Just playing disappears and with it the joy.
How about YOU?
Can you do things just for the fun of it, or does it need to have a useful aspect? For example, when you exercise, do you choose something that you really like, or do you choose an activity because it’s effective and with a high benefit factor?
What would happen if you chose pure joy on a regular basis?