Play up and play the game ... but not too often

Sport in school: Children are put off by lack of choice and show a waning interest in rugby and cricket but love basketball
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The Independent Online

Hockey sticks and cricket bats may soon be confined to the school locker- room, to be replaced on the playing fields by basketballs, rollerblades and video games, according to a new survey.

Although the vast majority of young people approve of compulsory school sport, a lack of choice in sports lessons is discouraging young people from taking exercise. Eighty per cent of pupils would be more interested in taking part if a greater choice were available, according to "And You Can Go In Goal", a survey of 764 7 to 16-year-olds commissioned by Sony PlayStation.

While football and swimming are still universal favourites, basketball is now more popular than rugby, cricket and badminton. Hockey and cricket, traditional staples of the school playing field were the least popular of all.

A look at sporting heroes reveals where the players' interest lies. Half of those questioned knew who the Chicago Bulls basketball star Michael Jordan was; this rose to 80 per cent among 15 to 16-year-olds. By contrast, only a quarter recognised the name of the England cricket captain Michael Atherton, falling to 8 per cent among girls.

"The relative popularity of Michael Jordan and Michael Atherton and the popularity of their respective sports in schools demonstrates it is easier for our young people to identify with top stars of some sports than of our traditional games. This has obvious and serious implications for the levels of competence and professionalism in those sports," the survey concludes.

It also reveals a widespread dissatisfaction with the way sport is taught in schools and considerable differences in the choice of sports available.

Cricket was played in half of schools, (62 per cent in secondary schools) and basketball was played in 6 out of 10.

Despite the widespread popularity of swimming, pool lessons were available to only 60 per cent of pupils from DE backgrounds, compared to 80 per cent of pupils from AB backgrounds. A funky 6 per cent of schools offered roller-blading.

Recent medical evidence has suggested that school-age children are more unfit than ever before and that youth obesity is a serious problem. Yet, perhaps worryingly, 74 per cent of the sample described themselves as being very fit and only 7 per cent admitted to being unfit.

Pupils, it appears, do not appear to see video games and gym shoes as mutually exclusive. More than a third (38 per cent) thought video games were useful tools in learning basic rules and tactics of some sports.

This reinforced findings from an earlier survey by Dr Mark Griffiths, a senior lecturer in psychology at Nottingham Trent University, which found that the third of children who spent an hour a day playing video games were also more physically active. "There was a hard core of 5 to 7 per cent who played all the time and never did any exercise, but for the majority it was just another way to spend their leisure time," he said.

Dissatisfaction with school sports on offer was closely linked to levels of PE avoidance. Nearly a fifth of those questioned said they "tried to find ways of avoiding physical exercise", the worst avoiders being15 to 16-year-old girls (39 per cent). Of the whole sample, 42 per cent were sure their fellow pupils were telling lies to avoid sports lessons.

Despite this pronounced trend towards more "fashionable" sports, the excuses used to avoid physical exercise were reassuringly traditional. "Forgetting to bring kit" was the most commonly cited, followed by sick notes, sudden illness and fake injuries. Other methods mentioned included intentional self-injury and, in one case, good old-fashioned bribery.