Sport is also important for the mind: Mainz sports scientist Swantje Scharenberg on lack of exercise – and what families and schools can do about it.
WIESBADEN – Mainz sports scientist Swantje Scharenberg heads Germany’s only research center for school sports and sports for children and youth (FoSS), an inter-institutional facility of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the University of Education in Karlsruhe.
Mrs. Scharenberg, how fit are our children and youth?
The National Exercise Recommendation states that children be physically active for 60 to 90 minutes a day. In Germany, only about 18 percent of children were able to do this – even going to school in order to go to school. Five years ago the situation was much better. The gap between unfit children and children who are promoted in competitive sports is growing.
The Kiggs study conducted by RKI showed that there are more and more children with movement problems. What are these defects?
This is already evident in everyday motor skills, such as walking: children with motor problems can no longer roam, that is, they are no longer able to do what is called periodic movement. They simply lack coordination skills.
what are the reasons?
The environment and parenting behavior changed. Some children are highly organized and nurtured by their parents: they pay close attention to what they do, and they define the parents of the day. In addition, we have more urban traffic and fewer opportunities to commute – and therefore less incentives to commute. For example, if you look at where most parking spaces are occupied, you will always find them directly in front of the building, so you do not have to take a single step. We avoid exercise, but in fact we should do it the other way around and, as adults, set an example for children.
What is the importance of movement for spiritual development?
There is a relationship between movement and learning. It has been shown, for example, that increased blood flow – after all, physical activity enhances blood circulation – improves mental performance. We create connections in the brain that we can refer back to for life.
Don’t game consoles and Wii with dance and action games provide a good alternative for city kids?
Movement is more than just motor skills. It’s also about social interaction, learning from each other, and constantly pushing our boundaries. Sport also helps in overcoming difficult stages. If a lot has changed in the family and the sport remains the same, I have a constant that I can withdraw to. They don’t have it with the game console or dance in front of the screen. At the moment, in the Corona period, we notice that there is a lack of social exchange between peers.
To what extent do parents influence their children when it comes to exercise?
At first, children have only a few people with whom they communicate and whom they can imitate. And if my picture, which I have across the road—that is, my father—is lying on the couch and doing nothing, I do the same. Plus, as a parent, I can always try to create new incentives for physical activity. For example, not to stand directly in front of the supermarket and not to put the child in the shopping cart to push him into the supermarket, but to let him walk by themselves.
What can parents do to encourage children to exercise more? Is there a “good” movement?
There is no good or bad movement. All the child enjoys is good exercise. Parents are often employed as well and therefore do not have the opportunity to supervise children on a permanent basis. This is why it makes sense to allow children to exercise with supervision: on the one hand in clubs, and on the other hand at school in the all-day district – for example by making sure they also choose an exercise club.
Many children are already in daycares or early nurseries these days: what roles do childcare and educational facilities play in motor development?
We still don’t get enough exercise in daycares, and attempts have been made to change that for a number of years. But teachers have a lot of work to do – and that’s on top of that. Movement has not been seen to be incorporated into a daily care routine and is also beneficial for development in other areas. In primary schools we have the principle of one teacher. However, most primary school teachers have had no training in exercises, games and sports – so there is still plenty of room for improvement here.
What could be improved in schools and day care centers?
A good option for coaches from clubs is to go to elementary schools or day care centers and work with children. This means that we get the expertise from abroad – and this is also financially supported by many cities and municipalities. I think that’s great because it shows that we’ve identified a shortfall here and are working in a sustainable, solutions-oriented way. This has also been well received by schools and implemented in partnership.
Do other countries do it better?
The Scandinavian countries are already further afield and have programs completely different from ours – this is also reflected in the PISA results. Internationally, great care is taken to ensure that exercises are more integrated into the daily school life of children of primary school age. And not only in physical education, but also in mathematics or German, which are always encouraged to exercise – even during breaks.
What sport did you hate in school?
Actually nothing. I come from a family of athletes and have enjoyed a wide range of basic motor skills training from an early age – which every child should already receive. Gymnastics, athletics and games – especially dribbling ball – loved it!