Updated: Dec 31, 2021
Recently, we reviewed an interview with successful Dutch speedskating coach Jac Orie, (Multiple Olympic Medals, gold on 5 consecutive Olympic games) about his concerns about the physical abilities of the new generation athletes. Orie, who is well known for testing his athletes, discovered a negative downtrend in his data over the past years. This is strongly linked to the new generation of children getting less physical education and school-based sport, and less physical resistance during daily activities, such as biking through rain and wind. Environmental changes do have a huge impact on this; children are taken to school by car more frequently, a lack of qualitative and quantitative physical education at school, less physical activity after school hours and the rise of entertainment technologies and motorized scooters and bicycles that all conspire to reduce the amount of informal physical exertion children and adolescents experience.
The lack of physical exertion also came to light recently during, managing partner, Niek Nijboer's, football talent scouting activities. Since the start of the new football season, he has reported a decline in motor skills and deteriorating physical conditions of the young players he was been evaluating. Of course, a connection can be sought here with children not being able to play at playgrounds and work out at the clubs for more than 1 year due to the national Covid19 measures. But it seemed as if the children had been lying on the couch for 16 months, without any physical movement. The majority of the children showed a lack of coordination, strength and endurance. It is impossible to prove whether the children actually just lay on the couch, but it is certain that the children were deprived of opportunities to be physically active. Closing schools, clubs, playgrounds and gyms certainly did not contribute to promoting physical activity.
While an important lesson from this covid19 era should be that the population benefits enormously from a healthier lifestyle. Hence, it’s more worrying to see that the possibilities to do physical activities are banned again by the governments, while more and more countries getting back in lockdown again due to the new omicron variant. It’s disappointing that decision-makers on national levels haven’t learned from the past 2 years, and still don’t consider sports and a healthier lifestyle an essential element in our lives. In recent decades, the decrease of physical movement has already been clearly visible in the streets; fewer children playing on the street, an increase in overweight people and, in recent years, the legs and bicycles are increasingly being exchanged for e-bikes and e-steps. Besides the fact that this will put enormous pressure on the health care system in due course, it will also become increasingly difficult for all trainers and coaches to offer the optimal development process that is required to deliver a gifted athlete to the global top. The gifted athletes will still be born, the question is whether all these changes will not have too much of a negative influence on the environmental factors and the intrapersonal characteristics of the athlete. The challenge will therefore increasingly lies with the coach and his staff to develop and monitor a systematic development process, in which gifted athletes can develop into talented athletes. Without further intervention and interference from the government, the question is when coaches should start this development process? And how do these coaches get a grip on the quality of what is offered at grassroots levels? And how can coaches, PE teachers and sport clubs get closer to the children and parents to educate them about the importance of physical movement and a healthy lifestyle?