Whatever Happened to Hobbies and Sports?
Posted on August 8, 2013
Before you start reading this post, may I apologise for some contradictions, it’s because it features theories not definitive answers.
When I was a child, everyone seemed to be up to something active, we played football at any given opportunity and spent the summer riding our bikes to fishing venues in the various lakes and rivers in the Kennet valley; we were always up to something. When these eighties nostalgia programmes show clips of television shows like Crackerjack, Tiswas and Magpie, I haven’t got a clue what they are talking about as I was either out fishing or playing footie, so were my friends.
At school, PE was something we looked forward to. Football was fun, cross country was a free for all mud fight through the gulley’s and streams of Baughurst whilst athletics was a chance to spear your mates with a javelin or knock them out with a shot putt. If you forgot your kit you did twenty laps of the field in a pair of oversized Y fronts, so you just had to get on with it, getting thin and fit without even knowing that you were doing it.
A guy I play cricket with is a supply teacher and he was telling me today that kids, particularly girls, do anything to get out of physical education, resulting in a copycat American obesity time bomb. Suddenly, it would appear, being obese is almost acceptable and in his words “Only the lesbians seem to like sport.”
It is quite depressing that we have come to that and it has been nagging me for some time why kids no longer participate in sport like they used to. My former colt’s cricket team is a good example. When then they finished their last season after being a team for five years, they were an excellent side, yet only four have them have gone on to play regular men’s cricket, despite them all having the opportunity to step up into depleted adult sides.
Before you say that I am just looking at the past through nostalgia glasses tinted with roses, check this out. The Basingstoke Sunday Football League that I used to play in had seven leagues when we joined in 1987; in 2013 it musters just three. Angling, another popular teenage sport/hobby, is in such a desperate state that weekend matches are regularly cancelled when you used to have to get on a waiting list and hope for the best.
Two of my friends who still go fishing, say they haven’t seen a new face at competitive matches for years and I must say, I don’t know any young lads who go fishing. What was once one of Britain’s booming hobbies is in terminal decline, it’s as if though the male of the species are somehow going through a rapid and irreversible emasculation process that is eradicating all their hunting instincts. Why is that?
The easy target is technology. Ipads, X Boxes, PlayStations and mobile phones all cop some hefty stick when it comes to the lack of love for sport and fitness and whilst this may be partly the case, sedentary activities have always existed. When I was a kid, we had Atari computer games Rubik’s Cubes, Monopoly, Scrabble, Subbutteo, Cluedo, Simon…I could go on. Yet the majority of us were still active for good chunks of our time, so to entirely blame at the feet of technology is a cheap and churlish excuse.
I believe that one of the reasons for this decline is that successive Governments and liberal thinkers have marginalised sport by making exceptions for those who do not excel by allowing them not to compete if they have a fear of failure and the humiliation they might face by not being very good. Whilst this liberal attitude may sound well and good, it allows excuses to develop, stymies development and curtails fitness to the extent we are now witnessing.
When you are kid, you fear being crap, so you push yourself to stay above the abyss. This has a wonderfully positive effect, because even those who are not very good maintain a level of fitness as they bid to improve. I was an awful runner at school, my legs were and still are, too short. However, in a game of cricket recently, I chased a ball to the boundary and overtook a 15 year old boy. It was not a proud moment, it was a tragic one.
If a 45 year old who was never good at athletics can outrun a 15 year old who actually plays sport, what on God’s earth are the non-active ones like? We are sitting on a time bomb here folks; we have the potential for a generation of inactive kids who have been taught that if they are not very good, they needn’t bother to compete. Wrong, wrong, wrong on all accounts.
Here is a final controversial theory that got me thinking. It comes from my friend who for arguments sake, I will call Stewart Withey. Has the role of a man changed so much that sporting influence is not passed down to children?
I will give you an example of how a child will copycat a parent.
My eldest son, when he was nine, had what must have been the oddest of experiences. It was 2005 and it was the year of the most epic Ashes series in history, a brutal contest between the two best cricket teams in the world. For two months my son watched me pacing the room, hiding behind sofas and yelling at the television with joy and despair in equal measure. At an age where his dad was his biggest influence, he was determined to work out what all the fuss was about. Within months he and several other kids who had had a similar experience were playing Hampshire League cricket.
Kids need to see their parents participating and enjoying sport. If they are spending their Saturday afternoons being dragged around non-descript provincial shopping centres they don’t stand a chance. It sounds chauvinistic I know, but there was a time when it was normal for a man to be playing sport at weekends as his kids watched on, unwittingly getting the bug. Cricket clubs up and down the land are struggling for numbers because players drift away when they have families rather than hanging around to show them what a fantastic social and healthy activity sport is.
You see it all the time. A lad plays cricket and then he meets a lovely girlfriend. She enthusiastically comes along with her friends with a picnic for a season at most, then her visits become more sporadic and then not at all. The player becomes increasingly unavailable then not available at all. The wedding bells chime, the babies arrive and he is not seen again until his kids have left home or his divorce has gone through. It seems that it is no longer tolerable to play sport when you have a young family when, in reality, it is the best time to let it come naturally to them.
Of course that is a generalisation but there is no getting away from the fact that there are many men who sacrifice sport for a young family when they should be advocating the opposite and getting them involved.
Otherwise the obesity problem will become a national crisis.