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Why won't kids play outdoors?

Published February 11. 2012 09:02AM

I did a story last week about a Florida man who grew up wishing he could play tennis.

At that time, there were no public courts in his town. If a kid wanted to play, his family needed to join one of the pricey clubs.

So he watched through the fence as others played and he picked up tips and techniques.

He went on to become a really good tennis player but his burning desire is to teach others to play, especially kids. He doesn't want kids to be "outside looking in," the way he was.

He looked around his community and decided the tennis courts in a community park could easily be accommodated to add lines for a kid's league. He researched available recreation grants and presto! Thanks to the cooperation of a local foundation, he had the courts redesigned and had rackets for kids who wanted to play.

There was only one thing missing: the kids.

That's where I came in. It was decided I should write a column about the tennis opportunity for kids, giving details about a free play day at the local courts. At the time, I told the enthusiastic organizers they might be disappointed at the turnout.

Well, at the appointed time, four volunteer coaches were there with the equipment waiting for the kids. Guess how many came?

None. Zero.

They scheduled it again with more publicity. This time one kid showed up.

I'm not surprised.

Here, in our Land of Perpetual Sunshine, the weather is perfect for outdoor activities. But most kids stay indoors.

When local sportsmen schedule a free learn to fish day for kids, few come.

When they have free kayak lessons for kids, few come. Sometimes, no one shows up.

When it comes to getting kids outdoors, the same situation takes place all over the country. Today's kids prefer to remain indoors playing video games or sitting at the computer.

I saw a national survey today that said only 12 percent of school kids get at least one hour of daily outdoor activity. And I bet the 12 percent represents kids involved in sports.

Kids who play sports are usually active youngsters who get outdoors on a regular basis.

But what about the majority of kids?

Why is it such a hard sell to get kids outdoors?

Most experts blame the proliferation of technology that makes it easy for kids to "play" indoors.

When we were young, do you know what we would have called time indoors?


We stayed outdoors until dark or until our parents called us home, whichever came first.

My daughters' generation had a lot more material things than we had. But when I asked them to name their favorite childhood memory, they said it was playing outside with neighborhood kids.

That doesn't happen as much today.

Maybe it's parental concern about safety.

A lot of coaches and adult volunteers I talked with said youths don't get outdoors as much today because their parents don't have time to take them.

There are more single parents struggling to raise kids than ever before. There are also more economic problems than ever before.

Parents, by necessity, are consumed with trying to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.

"I don't think there's been another generation with as many stresses as today's parents," said one older pastor. He said fewer kids participate in church groups because parents simply don't have time to take them.

I think that's true.

But it's also true that what we call the great outdoors doesn't have the appeal that it had in past generations.

As the saying goes, they don't know what they're missing.

My brother and I both agree that the greatest gift our father gave us was a love of the outdoors. He took us hiking in the woods and talked to us about nature. And best of all, he took us boating, spending long hours fishing with us or simply relaxing.

His "boat" was only a beat-up aluminum fishing boat. But I doubt we could have had more fun on any yacht.

My brother and I can now afford to entertain ourselves in myriad ways. But we both best love being outdoors. It's free and it's freeing. If you're a nature enthusiast as I am, you know what I mean.

As long as I am able, I will be spending most of my time outdoors, kayaking, boating, biking, or walking in one of our many parks.

When my father gave me an introduction to outdoor activities and to the glories of nature, he gave me a priceless gift that will last a lifetime.

It's often said today's kids have everything.

But if they don't have a first-hand knowledge of the joys of being outdoors, they are missing out on much of the richness of life.

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