Why Every Child Needs To Play Sports: John Gloster

The former physiotherapist to the Indian cricket team says sports promote health, and improve a child’s social skills and decision-making ability.

By Sindhu Sivalingam  • 12 min read

Why Every Child Needs To Play Sports: John Gloster

We all know that playing sports provides a lot of benefits for children. And parents should take an active role in ensuring their children play sports from an early age. Popular Australian physiotherapist John Gloster is one person who knows the importance of sports for children. The renowned fitness trainer, who is former physio of the Indian cricket team, talks about why every child needs to play sports.

The sports physio shares his knowledge about the importance of early exposure to sports, how it can give rise to better athletes, and about sports injury prevention. He also speaks about he raised his son as an athlete. Also, read on to know what common traits he finds in Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Mohammed Kaif.

1. You’ve always prescribed an early exposure to sports…

Yes, sports are a lovely tool for children to integrate socially. It makes children robust. I can tell children here (in India) are not as robust, and this is because there isn’t much exposure to contact sport at a young age. Children need to learn to bear pain when they are young. The country needs to gain more from sports. There are numerous studies that show how sports improves social skills, confidence, teamwork, decision-making skills, ability to be less selfish and so much more. It’s also proven to improve cognition. By playing a sport, a child learns by experience. This can happen only when children are exposed to sports from a young age. We need to have a structured physical education curriculum within schools in this country. I am happy to see that it is now an important agenda of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

2. So, it is all about early movement…

A young child’s experiences are through movements. Movement directly promotes cognition. Exposure to experience is how you develop your brain. Through free play and movement, a baby interacts and explores the world. I call the movement, the Vitamin M – Movement is a medicine; Movement drives everything else. As a physical educationist, I believe learning is driven from the shoulder down. Parents can no longer argue sports will hinder academics. Numerous studies prove the strong link between sports and improved academic performance.

3. What kind of sports should young children be playing?

I think it’s important that young children are exposed to multiple sports. We don’t advice children to take up serious training at a very young age. Instead, they should start with core foundation sports like swimming. It not only promotes motor competence but also teaches life-saving skills. In Australia and many other countries, swimming is a compulsory activity. Then, there are gymnastics and martial arts – these teach children discipline, stability, coordination, physical skills, agility and flexibility. Cycling is another good sport for children. It works on the muscles and keeps children moving and healthy.

4. What are some of the ways to prevent sports injuries in children?

  • Sports preparedness in children should be the primary focus. Developing motor competence from a young age is very important. Another thing to keep in mind is graded loading, since a child's bones are still developing, and overload can be an issue.
  • Nutrition profile forms the building blocks of life, especially for someone who plays a sport. A thorough knowledge of what their child can eat and what he cannot is a must for all parents.
  • Children should be provided appropriate kits, safe sports environment and trained physical educators.
  • If the child is getting serious about sports, parents should strive to find a qualified sports physiotherapist who could be on call anytime. The child should also undergo sports and medical screening that will test if he is conditioned appropriately to whatever sport he is interested to play at a higher level.
  • Parents should not get worked up if a child gets a small bruise. This will not help in bringing up a sportsperson. Knocks, bruises and bumps are part of sports

5. What are the common injuries that parents should pay attention to?

Bone injuries are the most common. Significant bruising or swelling are indications of trauma. If the child is in obvious stress, parents should act. They should seek immediate medical advice if there is an injury to the neck or head. When a child is playing serious sports, it is best he does so in a structured sporting environment in the presence of a qualified professional who will help make the right decision when it comes to an injury.

6. Can early exposure to sports reduce the risk of future sports injuries in children?

Yes. Children who don’t play a sport in primary school age, enter their preteen and adolescent age with a poor physical or health marker. For example, when children are into sports from a very young age, they are less likely to develop a tendon injury. This is because tendons develop by getting exposed to load and force. Girls are seven times more likely to get crucial ligament injuries if they aren’t exposed to motor competence by 12. Also, the chances of being affected by osteoporosis when they grow older can be reduced if girls did weight-bearing activities between the ages of 12 and 14.

7. What about nutrition?

That’s very important. You need to use sports as a vehicle to educate children about nutrition. Too many children today are over-exposed to sugar and processed food. If we continue doing this, we’ll have only a generation of unhealthy people, leave alone an athlete!

8. How was your experience working with the Indian Cricket team?

It was amazing. At that time, the Indian cricket team was evolving, and it was great to work with the spirited team. In the early 2000s, physical perspective was not given much importance in Indian cricket. That’s something I brought to the table.

9. How are modern cricketers now?

Now, there is genuine physical toughness in the modern Indian player because the rigours of the modern game are now high. They are better able to tolerate the playing load, which is much higher now. That’s also because there is a better system in place when it comes to improving the physicality. When that’s in place, you can be consistently good, and your injury rates will be low.

10. From then to now, what has changed the mindset of players?

If you show them the positive outcome, they embrace it right? That’s what happened. If they understand why they are doing the fitness sessions, they are better able to follow it through. My part was not just training but education around movement, nutrition, fitness and injury.

11. Tell us about a player with great endurance?

A few players came in raising the bar of physicality. Mohammed Kaif was one of best who proved fitness was a big part of the modern game. Then, younger players like Suresh Raina followed through. One person I have a lot of respect for is MS Dhoni. He was naturally a fit player and when he realised his fitness needs to improve, to match the changing game dynamics, he adapted. The game is changing, so the player needs to change. 10 years ago, it was very different. A T20 is different from test cricket. So, you need to be creative and have adaptability.
And there is Virat Kohli who reinforced that to perform consistently you must be fit. He identified why he was not scoring consistently although technically he is one of the best players in the world. He realised fitness is probably his limiting factor. So, he changed his diet. He changed the way he trained. It’s no coincidence that his game is at a different level now. He has proven to everybody that you got to be fit. He has become a great role model for kids saying no to endorse aerated drinks.

12. It must’ve been an interesting journey for you, seeing all the healthy developments…

Of course, it was, since the change is something that’s very close to my heart. I’d loved to have continued but I realised being the Indian cricket team’s physio needed a lot of my time. I thought I must invest time in my family. Thankfully for me, IPL cam my way, so I’m happy I’m involved in what I love without the challenge of not getting enough personal time. Also, I’m very involved in giving appropriate physical education to children. That’s because I believe that, if you want a healthy generation, better sports outcomes, better academic results – you need them to have healthy and fit early childhood years.

13. As a fitness-conscious father, how are you raising your son?

I have an eight-year-old son, Harry, who loves sports and ‘real’ food. By ‘real’, I mean food that doesn’t have sugar and isn’t processed. I grew up on a farm in Australia and always had a healthy home-cooked meal to eat. So, I make the effort to cook my son his breakfast every morning. My son makes conscious and healthy choices about the food he eats. He always prefers an active way of life, like taking the stairs instead of the lift, for example. He is not forced to do these things though. It’s because he sees me and my wife (who is an Indian pilot) being active and diligent about fitness and nutrition. I play with my son every day. He loves swimming in the summer and playing football in winter. Rain or shine, sports is a part of his life and he enjoys it. And, he does have his TV time. But luckily for me, he prefers watching sports. As a parent, my most important interest is how my child would be in 25 years, physically and mentally. That should be yours too. And all this depends on how you educate your child and what you model for him today. 

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