BEING involved in sport can provide an essential physical outlet for people of all ages, as well as opening up new opportunities to get involved in the community.
That’s the view of long-time sport advocate, and Department of Sport and Recreation director general, Ron Alexander.
Alexander has been involved with sport most of his life as a teacher, VFL and WAFL footballer, inaugural West Coast Eagles coach, mentor and administrator.
“There is plenty of research that shows we all need a balanced life, particularly kids who are studying hard at school,” he said.
“If your physical health is in good shape you’re more likely to be productive and enjoying life.”
Alexander used to coach football for boys with behavioural problems.
“My grandmother used to say ‘idle hands do the devil’s work’ and if you can’t find anything positive to do you go and make your own fun,” he said.
“But if you give them something good to do they will do it.
“If you get them into a sporting club they will feel a part of the community, they’ll have a stake in it and they will be less likely to offend against something that they feel a part of.”
He said sport also opened up lots of doors for social contact and meeting new people.
“The only way you make new friends is in your workplace, at school where you pick up your kids and run into other parents or through sporting clubs,” he said.
“There are not that many other places where you meet new people.”
He said WA had excellent sport and recreation facilities.
The increasing trend of smaller play areas in modern housing estates and children spending more time online playing computers had made it increasingly important to access these facilities and public open spaces.
Alexander said seniors were also encouraged to remain physically active, with doctors prescribing exercise routines for the patients.
“Everyone hears about the good value of doing exercise,” he said.
“But they sometimes think it’s for others or they don’t think about it.”
Former professional soccer player Brad Hassell has been passionate about playing sport ever since he pulled on his first pair of football boots when he was just four years old.
“Once I got that passion and drive it’s never stopped,” he said.
“I loved the sport and it’s something I still love to this day.”
Hassell, who was part of two title-winning teams with the Glory from 2001 to 2004, said his involvement in sport had helped to maintain his fitness and establish a social network.
“It was a good way to live a healthy lifestyle and the social side was a big thing,” he said.
“I had a fantastic time with the Glory, we were winning things and competing in front of big crowds on a regular basis and there was a real buzz around the squad.
“I made some good friends and I still see some of them involved in the game.”
He said the social benefits of interacting with groups of players helped develop team work which could be applied in other areas of life.
“You need to learn to work with others and get on with people,” he said.
After a stint in management with Armadale FC, Hassell has been a skill acquisition trainer with Football West for the past five years.
“I work with kids aged 9-12 to focus on four core skills; one-on-one, running with the ball, first touch and striking the ball,” he said.
“I got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the kids progress.”
Hassell stills play five-a-side soccer during the summer months.
He said playing sport was a good way of trying to stay fit while also having fun.
“I enjoy doing it and the plus side of that is that you are getting the fitness with it,” he said.
“Players work subconsciously when they are playing a game of football.
“But if you had to do something like run laps around an oval it’s boring.
“I’d much rather play five-a-side than go to the gym, I’ve done enough of that in my time to know what I like.”
What is the relationship between physical activity, fitness and academic achievement?
The large majority of internationally research has found a positive association between children’s physical activity participation and academic achievement.
Short bouts of exercise benefit executive control/function;
Greater vigorous physical activity out of school results in higher test scores;
The average academic achievement of children who received extra physical education is significantly higher than children who did not receive extra physical education;
Reading comprehension improves;
Physical activity intervention leads to significant improvements in children’s maths scores, and
Cognitive benefits are maintained over time.
Source: Centre for Sport and Recreation Research, Curtin University, March 2015