I love fitness statistics. I don't love them when they're discouraging, but I do love the fact that if you study them long enough, trends begin to emerge. And when you look at the trends, you can see what powers them. That's the best way to learn how progress can be made, even when things are discouraging.
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association recently released its Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Report. Boiled down, that's a study of who's active, where in the U.S. they're being active, and what kind of sports they're doing.
Make no mistake about it, there was good news and bad. A total of 217 million Americans were classified as being active, while 68.1 million were classified as being totally inactive. Ouch. But the silver lining (for me, anyway) was the fact that inactivity rates for both children and adolescents went down. The downturn might have been slight, but it's better than an increase.
As we've all become more aware of childhood obesity, and of the need to move kids back outside and away from their computers, smartphones, TV, junk food and whatnot, we've seen a lot of sports step up with their own offerings. Many of these are directed at kids in lower-income urban areas since, often, those kids lack guidance.
The sports programs are intended to give them something to do with their spare time, to give them a new interest, and to channel their energies in a productive direction. Sometimes it's something as simple as getting kids outside and teaching them to fish. Sometimes it's teaching them the basics of figure skating.
And sometimes it's something else entirely. Recently, I became aware of a program by the National Urban Squash and Education Association. NUSEA, which has programs in 10 major cities across the U.S., teaches kids squash, but more than that it teaches them the importance of making positive choices. It has a study and tutoring component, a public service component and more. The statistics are great: 100 percent of the kids involved graduated from high school, and 93 percent of them went on to earn a college degree.
It's not necessarily squash that makes the difference, of course. It can be any sport that resonates with a kid: baseball, judo, basketball, boxing, tennis, skating, whatever they want. What programs like those in NUSEA (or Figure Skating in the City, or Hook A Kid On Fishing, or any other) are teaching kids are things like time management, good sportsmanship and self-discipline - lessons they might not necessarily be getting at home. And if they like their sport, and stick with it, that's one more active kid.
Watching the numbers of inactive kids inch down is gratifying. I'm all in favor of keeping that trend going. I'm also in favor of any sport with an initiative to grow participation by doing the outreach to a population that really needs it. We all have so much to gain by helping out.