Is it really nine months since this country held the greatest sporting event on Earth? The Olympics come once every four years, and London has been very lucky (or unlucky, depending on point of view) to hold it three times: 1908, 1948 and 2012. One of the reasons why it is said London won the games for the third time (the only city to do so) was because of the promises made about legacy. These games were to be about the world’s youth preparing to take on the sporting challenges of the future.
Naturism has its own challenge for the future of course; how do we keep the children and young adults in naturism, and perhaps become our future leaders? A question that Roni Fine asked in the latest edition of British Naturism magazine, placing the question in the context of the club, the foundation of organised naturism in this country. “I hear people comment,” writes Fine, “that clubs must have something to attract the children and make them want to attend….” So what does Fine’s club (Blackthorns) provide its under 18s? A clubhouse (somewhere for them to hang out away from the grown-ups), a games console, Wi-Fi and enough sockets to cater for everyone’s laptop and mobile phone chargers. And sport.
“Sport is a major part of club life,” wrote Fine who went on “…we always have a sports day during the summer that involves team games and activities for all ages but it can involve Miniten, petanque, badminton, volleyball and table-tennis too…. We also have crazy-golf, a firm family favourite.”
I am not sure what Fine meant by team sports, but while those listed might be popular with the adult members, has anyone asked the ‘children’ if these are of any interest to them? Lets face it, Miniten is only played at naturist clubs – in fact, it is unique to naturist clubs – and while badminton, volleyball and table-tennis are likely to be available at school, they are not the sports the boys in particular talk about at break-time with their friends. Girls, sadly, are a different matter again. The findings of a study published in the European Journal of Physical Education from 1996 are that 45 per cent of their sample of girls aged between 11 and 14 engaged in no physical activity whatsoever, a problem that continues still in 2013. So it isn’t just a matter of finding the ‘right’ sports to interest the under 18s but finding those that will allow them to talk about it with all of their friends, naturist and non-naturist.
Taking Part, a survey conducted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in 2012 found that almost 50 per cent of young people between 11 and 15 years participated in Football (including 5-a-side), while a selection of other sports enjoyed by the age group are: basketball (28%), swimming and diving (27%), rounders (21%) and netball (19%), while badminton scored a lowly 18%.
The sports listed as being enjoyed by children between five years and 10 are: 46 per cent swimming, followed by football (including 5-a-side) (32%), gym (including trampolining) (15%) and tennis (10%).
Selecting the right sports is only half the problem of course, getting engagement will be the harder battle, as they will have to contend with the computer games that seem to be everywhere these days, or the compulsion to update their facebook status every ten minutes or tweet every five.
Not that this is anything to go by, but when I was young and during the school holidays, the street was almost alive with games of cricket and football and the frequent refrain of ‘get away from my wall, go and play outside your own house’ from an elderly resident. While the girls would play hopscotch or improve their technique with the skipping rope. Even further back, I have been told of times when a long rope would be stretched across the road and mothers would take turns to whirl it around, while the children from the street – both boys and girls – would dash in and skip a few steps of a skipping game before dashing out again.
It is a truism of life that there is no such thing as something new under the sun and the Taking Part survey also showed whom the children between the ages of 11 and 15 like playing their sport with. Overwhelmingly it is with their friends (50%) – hardly surprising that – and Fine’s article noted this, stating: “In my experience, the one thing that most children want to find at a club is more children.” Adding: “Having someone to pal up with is very important to them.” However, more than 30 per cent enjoyed their sport with their parents closely followed by their siblings
Something else Fine wrote referred to competition, and healthy competition always acts as a stimulus to improving performance, but intra-club competition might not be possible when there are so few children at a club to begin with. Maybe what is needed is a regular competition between clubs in the same region then inter-regionally, picking the best players from different clubs. Perhaps, this is something the YBN could organise and provide an added incentive for those eligible to join to do so. I’m not saying that the next Jessica Ennis, Alastair Cook or David Beckham will come out of the sports enjoyed in naturism, but you just never know.
Of course sport is just part of the answer, the full ‘work, rest and play’ attitude to life in general – and not just in the club – is important, and enjoyed by all, young and old, is the way forward. While most, if not all, clubs seem to have the social side covered, there appears to be a lack of opportunity for children to burn up their excess energy in the way they want to, apart from swimming perhaps. If young people are to enjoy an active life then maybe mum, dad, granddad or grandma need to join in and lead by example. Pass on whatever sporting skills you may have, or teach the intricacies of hopscotch, or the joys of a skipping game to the under 10s. You might also surprise yourself and enjoy it.
Providing a wider range of activities may have other benefits for the club too, regarding the missing generations. Sport could be a catalyst for the generations to engage with each other and not just with their peers. Who knows where all that might lead?
An edited version of this article appears in the May edition of the H&E Naturism.