As parents of two children – a son aged 12 just making the step up from primary to secondary school, and a daughter, now 20 and in her second year at university – this year has proved a challenging time for all involved in our household.
My wife has been working tirelessly for the NHS under ever-increasing stress, whilst I have been setting up a new sports business. This is a daunting task during a global pandemic with many questioning my timing for such a project! Of course, there are always people worse off than you. I try to seek out the positives in any situation, no matter how small, and allow some room to plan and move on to the next challenge life throws up.
Having participated in sport myself from a very young age, it naturally followed that my children were going to be encouraged to be involved. As a sports coach, I was going to play a full part in supporting them with their chosen sport.
In normal times we would be outside of the family home much more than inside and the kids would be involved in sporting activities almost every night of the week. Of course, that routine rapidly changed when the Covid pandemic struck, and we were suddenly unable to meet up with our friends or take part in all our usual sporting activities. At least in the summer of 2020, the weather was favourable, which meant we could use the garden and driveway to practice and remain active, but as winter approached the opportunities to continue as before were much reduced
I do realise that this story is not unique and that everyone will have a tale to tell but felt that I wanted to share how I attempted to address the problems created during the present situation.
Fitness tracker and counting steps
When my son was in year 5, he was provided with a fitness tracker and decided that he wanted to achieve 10,000 steps each day. (This may not have been the recommended number of steps for a 10-year-old, but for him, this became his memorable number.)
Now he is a very active child, so during his school day, he was achieving between 16,000-18,000 steps. Being involved in club cricket at evenings and weekends meant was often hitting 24,000 steps. This became a bit of a talking point at the club and soon led to some healthy competition with some of his friends.
In year 6 he missed the last few months of schooling due to Covid, including the end of year sports day and the school prom/celebration. He also missed out on the important transition from primary to his new secondary school. This proved really tough for him.
During the time between leaving primary and joining his new school, we discussed the implications regarding his exercise regime and that it might mean a reduction in his daily step count.
I felt that his activity levels might drop with the limitations on group sport participation and the reduction in after school activities. There was the concern that his step counting might not be viewed as “cool” among his peers and that he might just give in to pressure to just ‘hang out’ in order to properly bond/integrate.
September to Christmas proved to be a relatively normal school timetable before the imposition of the December lockdown. However, from the start of the term, it quickly became apparent that his daily steps had reduced to the 7,000-8,000 mark.
As Christmas approached, I agonised over whether to buy my son an Xbox. In some ways it seemed a great idea – it was a way to have fun and keep him in contact with friends from school. It was difficult because most children were now learning from home. I bought it.
Christmas came and went…
Any sport just totally went!
A bad day!
Midway through January, one Saturday afternoon my son came to me saying, “Dad, today has been a bad day!” When I asked him to explain, he said he had only done 2,800 steps and said, “That’s not good is it!” I must admit I breathed a sigh of relief… I said that although not ideal, we could sort it out together. It was positive that he understood what to him was a good day and not such a good day and that he identified this for himself by reading the result on his tracker.
During this time my son’s cricket coach commenced online fitness sessions for youngsters via zoom with sessions on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday working on core stability, sport-specific activities, movement and exercise. My son was able to access these sessions – although he still required a degree of encouragement and motivation to play a full part in the activities.
At the end of January, four weeks into the term, my son’s school contacted me to say that they had carried out a review of on-site provision for physical education. They wanted to reduce screen time and find a more balanced daily routine to support children’s well-being. This was a great step, but I did have to phone the school to check that I had interpreted this correctly. “Physical Activity every day at school!”
Children were presented with the choice of socially distanced football, dodgeball, handball, table tennis and soft archery. My son chose football most days, but this did not matter as his enthusiasm and motivation began to pick up, and his steps increased to between 16,000-18,000 per day.
The younger generation has access to so much at their fingertips – social media, television and gaming – all of which can prove informative and entertaining but does not teach the necessary real-life skills achieved by regular contact with others on a face-to-face basis. Social ability is like a muscle that requires exercise and the best way to achieve the exercise needed is being out there with other people and interact.
As kids get older, they tend to spend more time in bed or in their bedrooms. My wife and I decided to keep on top of this by not allowing our son to have an Xbox or TV in his room and by ensuring that he is up and about at weekends.
I recently heard an idea on the radio that has stuck with me. At the end of each day, we should think of two or three things to look back at that we enjoyed doing together. It might be a walk and talk opportunity we shared, making use of a basketball hoop, playing a ball game on the driveway, playing a family board game or just watching some tv together before bedtime.
Finally, as the year progresses and we approach the lighter nights, longer days and warmer temperatures, the hope is that we gain a clearer view of some light at the end of the tunnel and that sport returns, enabling our children to kick back into action.
A huge thank you to Matt Bradbury for writing this blog.
Matt has spent the past 18 years working in sports development, coaching and at the National Ice Centre, Nottingham. After being furloughed last year, he set about putting together a new sports coaching business and in October 2020 Matt Bradbury Sports was launched. Matt aims to benefit schools, community groups, and sports clubs. For further information please visit www.mattbradburysports.com