Let’s stop pretending sports aren’t important

Adam Williams, Sports Editor Ω

Have you ever thought about what your life would be like without sports?

For some, things wouldn’t change much. The occasional spectator would find other things to watch and the casual participant another way to get exercise.

For those who don’t see the value of sport it would be an occasion to celebrate. No more outrageous registration fees for a child’s minor sports, no more professional sports monopolizing the television on weekends and holidays.

For others, it would be a devastating loss. I’m not just talking about the hardcore spectator who spends his entire Sunday watching football, or her entire Christmas holiday watching the World Junior Championship. I’m also talking about people who have used sports as a forum for personal growth, who have improved self-confidence and developed collaboration skills as part of a team.

I had the opportunity to work with a phenomenal program this past weekend that’s allowing kids to do just that, which reaffirmed for me the importance of sports in our society.

It’s called Hockey for Youth with Special Needs. It’s entering its second season of existence courtesy of the City of Kamloops. The group had their first on-ice session Nov. 10 at Interior Savings Centre and welcomed 14 returnees and seven new members.

The program is open to youth of all ages and skill levels. It focuses on helping kids develop basic hockey skills while at the same time giving them the opportunity to socialize with their peers.

These are kids who face challenges every day but as Ashly Hay, a coach in the program, asserts, “this is an extra challenge and they’re succeeding at it.”

Whether they’re just learning how to skate or they’re a fairly accomplished player already, this program has enabled them to play a sport they love. Before the first year of Hockey for Youth with Special Needs, there was no league for them to play in.

Now, they’re gaining confidence, they’re having fun, they’re bonding with their peers and learning how to work as part of a team. It’s the sport that has allowed them to do that and if you ask me, that’s pretty important. That’s just the social benefits these kids are getting, there’s also the health benefits.

Health Canada recommends “an hour every day of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity.” In today’s day and age, childhood obesity is running rampant and sports are a means for kids to stay active. According to a 2004 Statistics Canada study, 24 per cent of Canadian youth between the ages of 12 and 17 spend 30 or more hours a week participating in sedentary activities and according to a 2008 study, 24 per cent are either overweight or obese. According to Health Canada, regular activity improves mental health, reduces stress and helps kids to do better in school — as I see it there aren’t too many negatives to regular participation in sports.

Sure, sport has its problems. When our athletes are making $5 million while our school teachers are making $40,000, one has to wonder about the priorities of our society — although the same could be said about the entertainment industry. At the heart of sport is giving kids the opportunity to have fun and exercise, make friends and just be kids, which is exactly what Hockey for Youth with Special Needs is all about.

There are few things more important than that.