At first glance, the news that South Carolina children are least likely in the nation to take part in after-school sports is surprising. After all, isn't the Palmetto State one of the more sports-crazy states in the nation?
But while South Carolinians may be avid spectators, fewer than half the state's students take part in team sports or other sports activities after school, according to a recent study by the University of South Carolina. The research also found that rural children tend to be just as sedentary as urban children -- perhaps even more so because obesity rates are slightly higher among rural children.
The study indicates that safety may be a concern holding parents back from encouraging their children to participate in after-school sports. Parents are worried that their children are at risk in school and even in their own neighborhoods during after-school hours.
Researchers noted that rural families also have fewer options for after-school care, and parents have to travel greater distances for work. Rural children not only are participating less in organized activities, but also are not going outside to play or ride their bikes because it might not be safe.
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But other possible reasons for lack of activity come to mind. Lightly populated rural areas are less likely to have community baseball diamonds, basketball courts, football or soccer fields where organized sporting events take place. That certainly is the case in York County, where much of the western part of the county lacks the sports facilities that are abundant in Fort Mill and Rock Hill.
We suspect that many young people who attend large schools miss out on the chance to participate in their schools' team sports. Only so many athletes can make the team, which leaves many on the sidelines.
But even large schools can supplement opportunities with after-school intramural programs. And students aren't limited to playing just football, basketball, soccer or baseball. How about tennis, golf, track, cross-country, volleyball wrestling and swimming, to name a few other sports in which students can participate? And, of course, there are opportunities outside of school, such as dancing, karate, bowling, horseback riding and others that provide a way to exercise.
South Carolina doesn't offer much in the way of outdoor winter sports, but its mild weather should be a boon to other sporting activities. Young people can play outside on most days, even in the winter. But whatever the reasons for South Carolina's low rate of physical activity, school officials need to look at other states to see how they do a better job of motivating their students to get involved in sports.
Sadly, the reason many South Carolina kids don't play sports is that they'd rather sit on the couch and watch TV. If we want them to grow up healthy and enjoy the many benefits of playing sports, we need to change that.
Survey finds that South Carolina students are least likely to play after-school sports.
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