Are there too many extracurricular activities in the UAE?

Find out what the experts think

Are there too many extracurricular activities in the UAE?

The list is endless from hip hop and dance fusion classes to football, rugby and cricket – oh, and have they considered parkour?

We naturally want to expose our energetic little darlings to as many activities as possible... After all, what is the alternative? iPads, PlayStations and endless YouTube videos of surprise eggs being unwrapped.

But at what point do we, as parents, say “enough is enough”?

My Sports Academy (MSA), winners of the best fitness organisation category at the Time Out Kids Awards 2019, provide swimming, football, netball and Tri-club for kids. The organisation’s sport development coach, Kyle Brady, believes that it is important for children to have a manageable variety of different interests from an early age.

“It’s a natural and positive thing for anyone to want to experience new things,” he says. “Giving them different avenues to develop will raise their base athleticism and fitness. Plus it is positive for a child to experience a new sport and to be successful at it. But equally, I think it is important for them to experience a sport that may present more of a challenge because their reaction to that can be of greater use to their character maturation than a sport that comes naturally to them.”

Ben Parnell, MSA’s head of triathlon believes that it is about finding a balance.

“Children should make the most of any sporting and physical activity that is made available to them. However, it is important that this is balanced with school work, socialising, home life and relaxation time,” Parnell says.

Brady explains that skills are transferable between sports, for example, learning to find the space when carrying the ball in rugby is a similar skill to keeping their head up and attacking space when dribbling a football.

Perhaps more importantly though, Brady says that: “It is crucial to take up contrasting activities that can help keep young athletes from physically burning out. Swimming is a great sport on its own, but it is also great for recovery to be in a pool where kids remain active, but put less stress on their muscles while still developing their fitness levels.”

However Brady is quick to point out that there does come a point when a young athlete has to choose what sport to pursue.

“As children age, programmes tend to become more intensive, require more time and become more expensive. Just as you have to declare a focus at university to refine educational development, at some point the same should be done with sports,” Brady explains. “There is a certain level within each sport where the focus changes from learning basics and core skills to working on techniques and the details of the sport.”

Parnell agrees. “This is usually around 15 years of age for team sports such as football, netball and rugby. Other sports such as gymnastics and swimming require a lot more time commitment so children often make their choice younger than this.”

But Parnell’s advice does come with a word of warning. “Something to be mindful about in these situations is burnout. Children become overloaded and injured, or bored of the repetition,” he says.

So how does a child, with parental support, make a decision about which sport to stick with? “That’s easy,” Brady says. “Just go with whatever makes them happy. Let them enjoy what they do. Absolutely, let them try new things, but at some point let them follow their joy.They will be more successful and take more pride in what they do if it means something to them.”

It’s imperative that children are invested in the sports they’re doing. It’s not going to benefit anyone if your child is attending a programme that they aren’t interested in because they won’t get the most out of it.

“In Dubai the spectrum of extra-curricular activities is vast, so it’s important to make sure children are fully involved in the sports programmes they attend and are absorbing the information being delivered to them,” Brady points out.

And while Parnell agrees with Brady that there are transferable skills between sports, he says that it is important to try a variety of disciplines to develop different skill sets. “In my 14 years of teaching PE I have seen a number of ex-gymnasts become very good physically strong athletes, but not necessarily great team players. The point here is that children need both physical prowess and game awareness,” he explains.

Brady’s advice for parents whose kids want to do everything? “Encourage their enthusiasm, but also remember you’re the parent, you’re in charge and you need to protect your child. So much is offered to children here and the benefits to their growth can be limitless, but the time you both have is not.”

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