ACU exercise scientists have praised sports leaders for their united approach to tackle rising inactivity levels in children.
Dr Gert-Jan Pepping and Dr Matt Sweeney from ACU's School of Exercise Science were behind last week's forum at the McAuley at Banyo Campus in Brisbane that hosted representatives from the Brisbane Lions, Football Queensland, Queensland Rugby, Netball Queensland, Gymnastics Australia and Volleyball Queensland.
Delegates at the Engage First Summit discussed research into rising dropout rates in organised sport and measures to combat the problem.
“Inspiring kids to love physical activity is critical to achieve better health outcomes,” Dr Sweeney said.
“That’s why it was heartening to see so many sports wanting to collaborate.”
ACU hosted the summit just days after the release of a Victorian sport trajectory study following almost 14,000 girls which found that 60 per cent who had started organised physical activity aged four or five had dropped out by 10.
While they were often competitors for junior registration numbers, the representatives were united in sharing methods to inspire passion for physical activity and retain children in sport.
Among the measures raised by delegates was a desire to expose primary school-aged children to the country's best coaches.
“Engaging with a bunch of eight-year-olds for an hour is difficult. That’s where, as a coach, you need to be your most skillful,” said Brisbane Lions AFLW coach Craig Starcevich.
“Maybe primary school-aged sport is where our best coaches need to be involved.”
Delegates heard children introduced by their parents to sport as four-year-olds were highly motivated, wanted to touch the ball and wanted to score goals.
At this age coaches, and a welcoming environment, are critical to strengthening engagement until the mid-teens when work, study and other forms of entertainment compete with their appetite for physical activity.
“For kids to hang around, it’s best to enter (organised sport) between seven and nine, not four or five,” said summit presenter Associate Professor Rochelle Eime from Victoria University and Federation University.
“Those entering organised sport at ages 7-9 are more likely to stay playing the sport over four years and transition from modified sport to club competition. Those entering sport very young at ages 4-5 are most likely to drop-out.”
Another presenter, Associate Professor Shane Pill from Flinders University, said connection between children and coaches was more important than sport-specific skill acquisition.
“They need to be given as much exposure as possible to develop the movement competency and joy which then gives them the confidence to choose to be active,” he said.