Iceland has reduced teenage drinking by 88 per cent and cigarette use by 87 per cent over the last two decades.
Stories of “hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk” in capital city Reykjavik were common back in the 90s so they decided to put more funding into after-school sports. They also funded lots of art, music and dance clubs and encouraged parents to spend more time with their children.
One of the thoughts behind it was that if teenagers want to change their brain chemistry by getting high then maybe they could start a social movement around getting a natural high. The results speak for themselves.
Back here in New Zealand this just reinforces what most parents think, which is that playing sport is a good healthy option for their children. I’m not sure we could get New Zealand to adopt the Iceland approach, at least not right away, but there is something we can do right now to help the situation and we can do it for free: Change the way adults behave around kids’ sport.
Having been around junior sport for seven years now it’s pretty clear that the main reason children become disillusioned with sport is because of the way they get treated by adults who focus too much on results. We all know about this issue but I think it’s worth pointing out just how much adult behaviour at junior sport undercuts our desire to see our children participating in physical activities.
I don’t have space to get into the competitiveness debate right now, but what I can tell you is that New Zealand Football has increased the number of children playing football by 26 per cent since 2011 by changing the way we coach primary-aged children. The population peak, which used to be amongst 8 year olds, is now sitting at age 12. This means they’ve shifted the point at which significant numbers of kids start to get disillusioned with organised football.
The secret? Stop focusing on results, make sure the children are having fun, and recognise that the best learning comes from playing and not from long talks by the coach.
Here in Raglan we’ve doubled the size of Raglan Junior Soccer since 2011 by making sure the kids enjoy their sport, and also by taking the girls seriously. We weren’t looking to make the club bigger; it’s just a by-product of trying to do the right thing by the kids.
I’m actually a very competitive person myself but we have to recognise that adult levels of competiveness are inappropriate at junior sports events. We also need to understand that our children need positive support, not criticism from their parents. They know when they’ve made a mistake and don’t need us to point it out. That’s the coach’s job. Except good coaches these days don’t constantly criticise their young players either.
Joe Rao at Raglan Area School has been instrumental in getting high school sports teams going again in Raglan but I reckon we can take this a lot further. If we stop taking the fun out of sport for kids there is no reason why we can’t take teenage drug and alcohol prevention as far as they have in Iceland.
Aaron Mooar is the Raglan Community Radio Station Manager and Morning Show host. Tune in on 98.1FM or get the webcast at www.raglanradio.com