3 Es and a load of balls

Isaac the quarterback

Effort. Enjoyment. Excellence. All three would be lovely, but I’d happily settle for two.

With the exception of Kara, who shows promising ball skills, hand-eye co-ordination and balance, I’m not sure our children are destined to excel at ball sports. Other than scuppering my plans to retire off the back of one of my sons’ Premier League-style wages, I’m okay with that. Excellence is desirable but a lack of it isn’t going to leave me bitterly disappointed.

I’m hopeful they will manage the other two of my three Es, however. Isaac has dabbled gamely with ball sports in the past but shown little ability. Toby shows a modicum of skill but little interest. Only Kara shows any real inclination and talent to throw or kick a ball, and even then I suspect that is largely because she can see the comedy value of hitting someone on the back of the head with a flying ball.

So when I briefly managed to get all three of them outside in my parents’ garden last weekend, playing with first a mini-football and then an American football, I was delighted to see a degree of enjoyment, albeit fleeting, on all three of their faces.

I say fleeting because Toby lasted only about five minutes before declaring that he’d had enough. However, Kara and Isaac were both keen enough to engage in passing triangles for a while longer. Kara’s sole interest is in creating maximum velocity with either foot or arm, which she does with uncanny accuracy for a girl who only turned three last week. I like that, whatever her motivation is.

Isaac lacks natural co-ordination but it’s in his nature to want to please people so he’s the one I know I can rely on to put in a little extra effort. And, sure enough, after a little coaching in the fundamentals of the forward pass, he was starting to throw a football with a reasonably tight spiral, even if his technique and accuracy still need work.

Okay, he’s always going to be more San Marino than Dan Marino, more Hannah Montana than Joe Montana and more Brady Bunch than Tom Brady, but I don’t mind that. If he’s willing to put some effort in and derives some enjoyment from it, that’s fine by me.

Of course, my interest in fostering my children’s participation in sport has a more serious motivation too. According to large-scale medical research, around 30% of children in the UK are overweight, a percentage which has been steadily increasing over the past 20 years. As many as one in five 10 to 11-year-olds are obese, which brings with it a significantly higher risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Type 2 diabetes runs in my family – both my mother and I have it – so I’m particularly interested in ensuring my children lead a healthy lifestyle to minimise their risks. Exercise is a but part of that.

Which is why I’m sorely disappointed by the lack of organised exercise, whether competitive or otherwise, in schools these days. I totally understand the importance of performing well on tests and Ofsted inspections and the pressure that creates on teachers. But when I was Isaac’s age I was doing football, swimming and PE sessions on a regular basis. I think I probably did as much every couple of weeks as many kids now do in a full term.

That saddens me. I’ve written at length in the past about the importance of sport, not just for its health benefits but as a means of teaching kids the virtues of teamwork, how to achieve goals through competition, and learning to both win and lose with good grace. I know children are taught many of these lessons in other ways but I also still believe that sport is so powerful in so many ways, regardless of individual ability.

Sometimes sport really is just a load of balls (and bats and racquets and …). But it’s also so much more than that. Which is why I’ll continue to try to teach my kids to put effort into and derive enjoyment from sport, even if they never excel at it.

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