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Independent play is important

Children need plenty of exercise to grow up fit and healthy. We asked Stefan Schötzau, head of the canton of Zurich’s sports department, what parents should bear in mind.

Text: Susanne Wagner

Why is it important to encourage young children to do exercise?

Stefan Schötzau: Exercise has a positive impact on weight and the development of bones and the heart. It also improves memory and performance. Unfortunately, levels of activity among children are decreasing. In the 1970s, 6 to 10-year-olds were active for three hours a day. According to a study by the Federal Office of Sport, this figure has now dropped to just one hour a day.

What can parents do to ensure their children get more exercise?

Be a role model! Don’t always drive to the supermarket, go by bike. Spend time outdoors even when the sun isn’t shining.

“In the 1970s, 6 to 10-year-olds were active for three hours a day.”

Where can young children let off steam?

It’s especially important to encourage children of preschool age to play independently, for example playing football, riding a bike or a scooter on the school playground as this helps them develop their social skills. Young children also love to play hide and seek around the house. Parent and baby gymnastics classes are a great way of being active together, too.

How can I choose a suitable sports club or sport for my child?

Most sports clubs have a website and many local authorities keep brochures listing suitable clubs. Children’s gymnastics run by local sports clubs and boys and girls gymnastics squads are still very popular. Many football clubs organise training for children on Wednesday afternoons. Sports weeks during the school holidays are also a good option: children are able to try out various sports such as table tennis, basketball or dance and get a feel for what they enjoy.

What should parents bear in mind when choosing an activity?

For children aged 5 to 10 the focus should be on basic forms of movement such as throwing, catching, jumping, climbing and sliding. They should be able to experience all different kinds of movement. Most importantly, the activities should be fun and give the kids a sense of achievement.

What are the most popular sports?

Roughly half of all boys start by playing football. Girls are a bit more varied in their tastes. They choose gymnastics, horse riding, ice skating or volleyball, although football is gaining in popularity. Children like to try new things. Something they try as a five-year-old might not be something they continue to do their whole life. For example, children today tend to play football for three years and then play tennis for two years.

As a parent, how can I tell if the coach is any good?

It’s important that the coach is good with children, able to encourage them and that the class is suitable for children. It’s worth looking out for coaches with a qualification in children’s sport for five to ten-year-olds (Jugend+Sport-Ausbildung). You can accompany your child to the class, watch for a few minutes and see if they feel comfortable. However, bear in mind that parents who stay the entire time aren’t doing their child any favours.