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November 2018 Update











Iseult Catherine O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor | Volunteer Tutor with Second Level Students |

A Member of the Tutors' Association






Please see the following Sections ~









Some of the sports and sporting associations and organisations mentioned in this Post are particular to Ireland.









Those children who were to attend pre-school, Montessori, play groups, or first and second year in junior school, have mostly settled in by now.






PRIMARILY, young children need to learn how to listen carefully and speak with confidence; to learn to be social creatures; to develop the skills that help them engage as part of any social group.  They need to learn co-operation, give and take, taking turns, sharing, showing consideration for others, self-reliance, self-confidence, self-motivation, and Grace and Courtesy.  They also learn to develop their gross and fine motor skills.  Most of these skills are learnt through play - Play is Learning!






EVERY YOUNG CHILD should feel free to learn how to express him or herself physically, and not feel like a ‘loser’ because he / she cannot manage a gross motor skill during a game or other activity.  For a variety of reasons, some children are physically less well co-ordinated than others in the 2.5-4 years age group, and into later years.



Getting the hang of running, chasing, skipping, hoola hooping, roller skating, scootering, tricycling, bicycling with training wheels, and later without, all require great concentration and application.  Many spills and grazes are endured before any degree of mastery is gained.


INDEED, into adulthood, some of us are great dancers or footballers; most of us are not!



DURING COMPETITIVE PHYSICAL GAMES, in early childhood education settings,  the SAME children shall usually LOSE, and the SAME children will usually WIN.  It is disturbing to consider some  children may come to believe they are almost ALWAYS GOING TO BE 'LOSERS', and that others may come to believe they are MOST LIKELY TO BE 'WINNERS’ before they reach the age of four. 


*  What kind of thoughts about themselves regularly go through the minds of those young children who more usually lose in physical games and activities?


*  What constant, possibly negative, comparisons might be drawn by these young children between themselves, their siblings, and their classmates? 


*   What attitudes do they develop towards themselves, and towards their classmates, and how do these affect the class dynamic?



Games, like "Simon Says" or "Statues", would work for most children, because no-one NEEDS be knocked out just because he or she makes a mistake.  The whole group could carry on, and the fun would be in the actions set by the teacher, the sillier the better.



A RELUCTANCE to take part in group games is a common  response of children who were usually knocked out of competitive games very early, and who have come to feel that games are just NOT FOR THEM. 



STOPPING JOINING IN this group play, or playing because they  MUST  and only going ‘through the motions’, would be a significant loss for a child.   SUCH A CHILD may start feeling isolated, self-conscious, and different to classmates.   HE OR SHE IS unlikely to say why he / she no longer wishes to play games and, SADLY, can come to be seen as 'odd' by some.



ALSO, if not joining in fully in group games, children would be losing an important element of DAILY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY;  part of their necessary routine exercise.



MUCH MORE IMPORTANT, however, is losing this crucial time in which young children learn to stretch physical capabilities, become comfortable with their bodies, and are confident enough to try something new, without self-censorship.






Regular Daily Exercise is a Requirement for All Children






Regular and frequent break times in the School playground must be part of every day's schedule.  Many studies show that children are not getting sufficient exercise, and need around three hours free play including lots of running, every day.  Boys, in particular, have difficulty sitting still in class, and expecting children to sit for up to four hours at a table is unreasonable, as that is not how they were designed!  



Please see the Section below, 'Excerpts of Studies on Welfare of Children and Youngsters' to get an idea of the negative consequences of insufficient exercise for children.




I SUGGEST this state of mind may carry negative, long-term, confidence issues.  As these children start hitting 08+ years of age, THEIR VIEWS OF THEMSELVES both mental and physical, MAY LEAD TO self-imposed isolation, depression, eating disorders, and self-harm.



I DO NOT SUBSCRIBE to the idea that competition is good or necessary for young children, as that is how the World works, and they need to learn about being winners for their future education and job prospects.  The idea of junior schools being production lines for future employees was supposed to end in the mid-20th Century.



CHILDHOOD is when we dream, day-dream, imagine. HOW does one choose a champion day-dreamer?!


Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci were always in trouble at school for staring out the window!






WHEN THE MIND IS AT ITS MOST PLASTIC, and wide-open to ideas; young children may lose a glorious opportunity for self-exploration, and discovery of the big, exciting, World.


WE HEAR frequently of the need for future leaders in all walks of life; and there are seminars on 'How to be a Leader' being held every day, somewhere.  Leadership is NOT about playing games with other people's jobs.



TRUE LEADERSHIP comes from having had mind-space to develop ideas ~ to reject them ~ and to start again. 

That kind of wide-open thinking, at its best, starts very young. 



BUT IT CAN ONLY HAPPEN if young children are allowed to be themselves, and NOT pressurised into trying to perform 'wellin activities for which they are not suited.


We must ALWAYS encourage our children to enjoy all kinds of activities, sharing the joy with others, without having to be 'goodat them.



I WAS AN ENTHUSIASTIC, hard-working, hockey player in school.  I loved it.  I started out on the 'B' Team, and slid down to the 'E' Team.  I still loved hockey, I just wasn't much good at it!






Sharing experiences of discovery, comparing opinions, and bringing the sensations home to draw and colour would be a joy, and also a way for children to express themselves without an arena of competition or comparison.  Children need to know there are forums in which they can express themselves, without the worry of competition or comparison.



Please see my following Posts for simple, inexpensive, ways to engage a child or youngster, helping encourage self-motivated projects and developing self-confidence and self-reliance CHILDREN'S CITY LIFE, NATURE in the CITY, and A YOUNGSTER'S OWN AUTUMN / WINTER PROJECT.


Excerpts of Studies on Welfare of Children and Youngsters







Excerpts of Studies and Pieces follow from the following contributors:


Bill Murphy Jr, of TheMid.com; 

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland; 

Belinda Luscombe in Time Magazine; 

Angela Hanscom, a Paediatric Occupational Therapist; 

Plus, a disturbing  piece on 'Expanding the Definition of ADHD'.






According to Bill Murphy Jr, of TheMid.com, students, and especially boys, need hours of physical activity every day; and they do not get enough because their schools will not let them.


Apart from insufficient teacher numbers to supervise morning and afternoon breaks, many activities which were allowed previously, like running and playing chasing in the yard, are now prohibited because of insurance cover worries.


Bill Murphy Jr outlined the following research results.


 1.     We overprotect children and youngsters, trying to keep them safe from all physical dangers - which ultimately increases their likelihood of real negative health issues.


 2.    We inhibit children's academic growth (especially among boys), because the lack of physical activity makes it harder for them to concentrate.


 3.     When they fail to conform quietly to this low-energy paradigm, we over-diagnose or even punish kids for reacting the way they are naturally built to react.


[Most boys appear to be in a constant state of motion: running, jumping, fighting, playing, pushing, getting hurt - maybe getting upset - and getting right back into the physical action.]


[Except when at school, where they are required to sit still for long periods of time in the classroom.  When they fail to stay still, how are they punished?  SADLY, OFTEN, by being denied going out to the yard for their next break, and having to sit at their desks, while their classmates are out in the air.]  My comments in [] brackets, ICOB.





Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland recently tried to document whether boys actually achieve less in school when they are restricted from running around and being physically active.



They studied 153 children, aged 6 to 8, and tracked how much physical activity and sedentary time they had during the day.  According to a report by Belinda Luscombe in Timethe less "moderate to vigorous physical activity" the boys had each day, the harder it was for them to develop good reading skills.


The more time children ... spent sitting and the less time they spent being physically active, the fewer gains they made in reading in the two following years.  [It] also had a negative impact on their ability to do maths.



The results did not apply to girls, for which there are a few possible explanations.  It may be that girls have physiological differences, or maybe they were just as eager to move around as the boys, but they were better able to set aside that disappointment, and concentrate.



This concern is not confined to poorer academic achievement.  Many observers and researchers now say limited physical activity leads to real physical and mental harm in children and youngsters, even in the short term, before they have grown up.






Angela Hanscom, a paediatric occupational therapist, interviewed young children to ask them what recess and play are like in the second decade of the 21st century. They answered as follows.



"We have monkey bars, but we aren't allowed to go upside down on them.  They think we are going to hurt ourselves.  I think I'm old enough to try going upside down."



"We have woods, but can't go anywhere near them. It's too dangerous."



"When it snows, we can't touch it with our foot, or we have to stand by the teacher for the rest of recess."



Restricting children’s movement like this leads them to increased anger and frustration, less ability to regulate emotions, and higher aggressiveness, during the limited time periods in which they are allowed to play.   Angela Hanscom writes "Elementary children need at least three hours of active free play a day to maintain good health and wellness.  Currently, they are only getting a fraction".







In the United States, ADHD diagnoses in children and youngsters are more likely now than they were in years past, but one may not realise that the number of diagnoses is still rising, and at an alarming rate.  In 2003, for example, it was diagnosed in about 7.8 per cent of youngsters, but that rose to 9.5 per cent in 2007, and 11 per cent in 2011.  

That is a 40 per cent increase in eight years.



There are a couple of reasons to explain this dramatic increase in diagnoses. 

The definition of ADHD has been changed to make it more expansive.  

Many critics argue it is also because of the interests of the pharmaceutical industry, since the leading treatment for ADHD is a prescription medication.



Angela Hanscom, in a separate article, says it is also because we are forcing children and youngsters to sit still longer, and they are simply reacting as nature intended.


"Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors," she writes.  "Let’s face it: children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem."



Angela Hanscom reminds us of the stakes, "In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention.  In order for them to pay attention, we need to let them move".



[It is much easier to control a classroom in which the children have to sit quietly, than one where a little bit of managed chaos is allowed.   Nobody judges teachers on whether or not they gave their students sufficient break times during the day.  Teachers are always conscious of the overly protective parents who can make trouble if one of their children falls in the school yard.  My comment, ICOB].



When young students get enough time to blow off steam and become relaxed, and when they return to the classroom, students are "less fidgety and more focused," one teacher said.  They "listen more attentively, follow directions, and try to solve problems on their own instead of coming to the teacher to fix everything".





Over-Competition in Sport Bad for Children's Mental Health










Finding physical activity they enjoy more important than relentless drive for success.





Jennifer O'Connell, The Irish Times



“I don’t know how to manage my own anger, frustration and utter gut-wrenching hurt for him when he sobs that he is not good enough,” a concerned parent wrote in a letter to the ‘Irish Times’ parenting expert, John Sharry.



Their son’s devastation was not caused because he was failing at school, or had done something to disappoint his parents. Instead, it was because of being left on the sidelines at under-12s GAA matches. The writer said they were angry with the coach who, they wrote, “is excluding my child”.


The response to the letter – one of the most heavily read and discussed articles on irishtimes.com in recent times – suggests it is a common situation.  The writer identifies a conundrum that all coaches in children’s sport face at some point. Which should take priority:  fostering talent or encouraging participation? At what stage is it okay to let fun and commitment take a back seat to competitiveness?


“The goal should be to include as many people as possible for as long as possible at their level,” says Sharry.



By focusing exclusively on talent at younger levels, coaches risk overlooking emerging stars.


Over-competition in sport is problematic for children’s mental health.



“Some competition is fine to keep them focused, but too much is a problem. It’s bad for the less athletic kids because they feel bad [or feel] they may be letting the team down, and rejected if they are dropped.  But it’s also a problem for the high-achievers who can become anxious about their performance.



“To make the most of the enduring mental health benefits from sport, it should be about enjoyment and passion, physical exercise, learning new skills, socialising, and working together at shared tasks.”  Children should never be left on the sidelines, says Helen Hannigan, an international rower for Ireland who retired in 2015, and now assists with the coaching of under-13 girls in football at Clontarf GAA.



“At that age, it should be about getting kids involved, having fun, building their confidence, and developing their body awareness.   So many children come home from school, do their homework, and go straight on to the Xbox or phones and aren’t doing enough physical activity, which will lead to more health problems as they get older.  We should be doing everything we can to encourage them to stay in sport.”




Emerging Stars

By focusing exclusively on talent at younger levels, coaches risk overlooking emerging stars, says Eoin McGrath, who played hurling for Waterford for more than a decade, and is still involved in coaching at club level.


“Even in school teams, you’d always come across the lads who were 50-50 in terms of ability – but you still have to encourage those lads, because everyone develops at a different rate.  I was a small 12 myself, and if you’re small at that age, unless you have pace to burn, you’re going to struggle.  But by 14 or 15, that kid will have caught up, and he might discover a real talent for it.”


Under-13s camogie coach at Clontarf GAA, Eoghan Hannigan – who, like his wife Helen, is a former elite rower – makes a point of rewarding the kids who turn up for camogie practice every week with a place on the team for matches, even if that means those with more natural ability and less dedication have to sit on the bench.



In sailing, we believe creating a lifelong love of the sport is more valuable than results at a young age”


“Commitment and participation trumps all in the end.  If you really love something and you’re committed and you’re hungry, that matters more than raw talent.  The history of sport is full of stories of people who weren’t the stand-out players when they were young, but who got there through hard work.”



The example of Olympian Annalise Murphy shows that fostering a love of the sport is more important than handing out medals, says Treasa Cox of the Irish Sailing Association.


Murphy has said of herself that she is “probably not the best sailor in the world. I’m not exceptional. Ninety-five per cent of the time I’m good, but I’m nothing amazing, but then I think five per cent of the time I have managed to be better than all my competitors.”


“In sailing, we believe creating a lifelong love of the sport is more valuable than results at a young age.   Annalise succeeded because she was the one who put in the hard graft.  The ones who make it in the long term aren’t necessarily the ones who show huge talent early on.   You have to develop a love for the sport first – and then the results come,” says Cox.


The signs popping up at pitches around the Country reminding spectators that “These are kids.  The coaches are volunteers.  The referees are human.  This is not the World Cup” are a reminder of another deterrent: pushy parents.



A lot of parents now are pushing kids to the brink of quitting the sport

Psychotherapist Stella O’Malley sympathises with coaches who might look dimly on “the Mama Bears who insist that the coach should play their little Johnny every week – never mind whether little Johnny can kick the ball in a straight line or not.  The entire GAA works by relying on people who are willing to contribute towards the parish in whatever way that is needed so that the team succeeds”.


McGrath comes from a family deeply immersed in sport – he and his brother Ken both played for Waterford, as did their father, Pat.   But he says the only pressure the brothers felt was what they put on themselves.


“We were always out to try and prove to our father that we were good enough to play. We always had to impress him.”



“A lot of parents now are pushing kids to the brink of quitting the sport.  The reality is that not everybody is going to play inter-county hurling or premiership soccer.   But not every parent wants to accept that.”




At Greystones United AFC, the emphasis is on developing players of all levels, and there are posters around the club stating that “we win, we draw, we learn, we never lose”, says Damien Ivory, a coach with the under-14 girls’ and under-11 boys’ team.



“As a coach my focus is always on development rather than winning.   Winning starts to happen by default, but it isn’t as important,” he says.



“There is a balance, though.   As kids get older, it’s important to be able to deal with loss and victory, and there is a need to experience real competition.  That’s why it’s critical that they have found the right level to play at when they reach teenage football.”



The advice often given to parents is that kids should do one gymnastics-type activity, one athletic sport and one ball sport.  But the reality is that team sports are not for every child, especially the ones who find themselves standing on the sidelines week after week.



Team sports are not the only way to get the benefits of physical activity – just get them doing one thing that they love, and you’re already ahead, says Sharry.


“The best sport for your child is whatever works best for him or her. Individual sports can have all the mental and physical health benefits of a team sport.”



For girls in particular, when they hit their teens, their involvement in team sports tends to fall off a cliff “right at the time when they would benefit most”.



“If you can find a sport you enjoy, which is at your level of ability, and you can help the team achieve something, that’s brilliant.  And it doesn’t even have to be a sport. It could be a club activity like the scouts,” he says.



Sport is important to fashion designer Leigh Tucker, a mother of three daughters, and to her husband Oran Heron, a personal trainer.  But they have opted for their three daughters (aged 10, 7 and 5) to do gymnastics and athletics rather than a team game.


“It took us a while to find the right fit, as we are not into medals.  At the moment all three do gymnastics eight hours a week, and Lena, the eldest, also does athletics twice a week.  We found a gymnastics club with an ethos that was the right fit for us: not overly focused on competition, with an emphasis on skills, fun, being part of a group and commitment.


I think I’m proof that there is a sport for everyone – you just have to find it”


“Our kids are never going to compete internationally, but they’re on a high after practise, and we try teach them that’s what the prize is, the feeling great.”


An initiative being developed by the International Triathlon Union aims to find a more structured role for less athletically-inclined youngsters, says journalist Ed Rice. “We need to expand the notion of participation. Our plan is to get the kids who aren’t as capable involved in the running and administration, so they can still benefit from that sense of worth and community.”


For some children, it is just a matter of trying different things until they find the sport they love.



Helen Hannigan remains convinced there “is a sport for everybody”.   “I played GAA – badly – all through my teens.   I was more of a bench warmer, but I enjoyed it and it kept my fitness up.   It’s only when I went to college and discovered rowing that I found the sport I was passionate about.


“For me, that’s what sport is about.  For years and years, I couldn’t let a day go past without getting out on the water.   I think I’m proof that there is a sport for everyone – you just have to find it.”




 I made some minor changes to the above article, ICOB.





Best of Luck!

Regards, Iseult

Iseult Catherine O’Brien








If you see any errors, typographical or factual, or if you disagree with any of my ideas, I should be very glad to hear from you.


Please let me know what you think of my ideas ~ if you don't tell me, I won't know if I've gone wrong somewhere!


Email iseultccobrien@gmail.com.


I am an elected Member of The Tutors' Association.


All my Posts originate in my website, www.icobrien.com"Education Matters".  They are developed, updated, and continually revised.







If I quote a person, group, organisation, or establishment, I do my very best to source the material quoted, and to attribute it properly. If I cannot satisfy myself I have found the author or speaker who voiced a quote, I resist using it, no matter how tasty a bite! If I refer in passing to views expressed by others, I attribute the views even if they have not been given verbatim in the text. 


I work on a basis of goodwill and good intentions. I shall make errors, being human, and when I do, I apologise now, and should always welcome a correction, which I would insert in the relevant Post prominently, in clear unambiguous text and type, repeating the apology. That's is the best I can do!