Health & Fitness

Study: Youth sports practices not enough physical activity

Parents who sign their kids up for youth sports leagues need to know: That's not enough to ensure youngsters get the physical activity necessary for good health.

A study released recently indicates youth sports practices often don't provide the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. And since most youth sports involve only one or two practices each week, kids need to be active on those other days, too.

"Some parents sign their child up for a youth sports program and then check off that box," said Russ Pate of the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health. "The typical youth sports program is not going to meet the physical activity requirements."

The study, presented in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, was conducted by the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine. Pate, a national expert on physical activity, and fellow South Carolina health researcher Jennifer R. O'Neill wrote the accompanying editorial.

Using pedometers or accelerometers worn by 200 youth baseball, softball and soccer players ages 7-14 in San Diego, the study found only 24 percent of participants met the 60-minute goal during practices. In general, soccer players got more activity than baseball and softball players and boys were more active than girls.

Organized youth sports are an important component in meeting youth fitness needs, Pate said, but coaches and league organizers could tweak practices to keep kids active longer.

In some cases, the teams' practices were limited to an hour or less on the field. But even longer practices often didn't meet the activity requirements. The study found players were moderately or vigorously active 46.1 percent of the practice time.

"Practices need to be organized in a way that has the kids moving most of the time," Pate said. "You can have one player practice the skill while everyone else watches or you can give everyone a ball or equipment and let them practice the skill all at the same time."

Tom Cronin, a physical education teacher at Lexington's Pleasant Hill Elementary School who also coaches his son's youth basketball and baseball teams, knows the challenge. He has an advantage over most youth league coaches because working with active kids is his profession.

"Parents tell me my practices go smoother than others," Cronin said. "I try to keep them busy as much as I can. We might break for water and talk for a minute about what we're going to work on next. Then they get back out there."

When he works with student teachers at the school, Cronin aims for PE classes to spend 65 percent of the time on activities. The rest of the time is for instruction and management. The percentage of time for activities should go up as teachers gain experience.

The study also noted that most youth sports teams practice once or twice a week and play games once a week. That means kids need other outlets, either in structured programs or nonstructured active play, on the other days.