Opinion: Varsity Sports Not All Bad

Kristi Adamo, PhD, Research Scientist, CHEO, Ottawa

Kristi Adamo, PhD, Research Scientist, CHEO, Ottawa

Given the rather enthusiastic response to yesterday’s post on how the focus on varsity sports may undermine efforts to get the whole student population moving, here is a guest post from Kristi Adamo, one of my colleagues from Ottawa:

Just thought I would chime in as an ex-varsity athlete. My husband and I were both University varsity athletes (that is how we met) and it is in part what made us who we are and the type of parents we have become. Because we played high level sport most of our lives we are quite realistic in our expectations of our children and we feel we have insight as to what is important for them to learn and what can wait. We are knowledgeable enough to recognize that our children may never be like the ‘great one’.

While we both believe a certain level of competition is healthy, our experiences have taught us that encouraging active behaviour and the development of motor skills through a variety of fun activities is much more important than knowing all the rules of a complex game, or scoring the most goals, baskets etc… We have made efforts to teach our girls that physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle- just like eating green leafy vegetables! They recognize that mommy and daddy both play sports because they are fun and keep us fit so that we can live healthy longer. My 4 year old could tell you at length why this is important …

While I do not condone the American model regarding the elitism of varsity sport and the gift of graduation to those who contribute to a National championship (let’s be honest we know this happens and there are some dumbasses who get a degree because of their ability to draw in the crowds), in my opinion doing away with varsity sport in order to encourage more for the masses is NOT a viable solution and may further ostracize those who are not ‘talented’ if we pool all skill levels together… thus we should not throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.

I can say with some degree of certainty that the Canadian athletics scene is far different that that south of the border but any PE teacher who focuses on one sport is clearly not trained to be a PE teacher and all and herein lies the problem. I understand why children, like the one quoted, would opt not to participate.

Unfortunately, I think that the popularization of professional sport and the money and lifestyle tied to this has done us a severe disservice. While I am no expert, I understand that in the US some of the college coaches make more money than any other employee of school- and that often team endorsements are higher than the grant funding brought in by all research departments. Perhaps we need to think about this aspect and what kind of message this is sending…

While I will not deny that there are drawbacks to elite sport, high level sport can positively influence many aspects of one’s life and contribute to the development of very fine individuals who have leadership skills, a great work ethic, who strive for excellence, are diligent team players who know how to compromise when necessary, have a degree of humility (recognizing there is always someone more talented) and obligation, and can be an excellent role models.

Kristi Adamo, PhD, is currently a Research Scientist with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute and an Assistant Professor in Human Kinetics and the Department of Paediatrics at Ottawa University. Her research interests include prevention of childhood obesity and its metabolic consequences, lifestyle intervention, and life course of obesity, specifically early determinants. She is also an avid athlete (hockey, soccer, volleyball, running).

Regina, Saskatchewan