Sports clubs seen as all-round losers

2nd March 2001 at 00:00

TEENAGERS gain no advantage in terms of personal or physical development by going to after-school sports and activity clubs, a government study claims.

Out-of-school sports clubs are enormously popular, because German schools, unlike their British counterparts, limit sports teaching to swimming and athletics. Many don't have playing fields and they shun competitive sports.

"Because of our experience in the Second World War, no one wants to expose children to ideas of victory and defeat, so competitive sports are not practised in schools," said Professor Wolf-Dietrich Brettschneider, a sports specialist at the University of Paderborn, which carried out the study. As a result, activities beyond swimming and athletics are catered for by the existence of non-profit-making sports clubs.

The clubs were expanded hugely during the Nazi era and were promoted as much for socialisation as health. Even now, many clubs push the idea of "development through healthy competition".

The clubs are also seen as contributing to the social and emotional development of youngsters, inreasing confidence and personal growth, reducing stress and improving discipline. The more specialised focus on a particular sport is thought to enhance sporting skills beyond what would be possible in schools. However, the study has caused some embarrassment.

Comparing the development of 1,600 12 to 18-year-olds over three years, it found that 12-year-olds attending clubs initially perform better in terms of strength, stamina and co-ordination. "But we cannot identify any advantage on the progress of their development," notes the study.

According to the German sports federations, about 26 million people are members of local sports clubs and the number is growing by 500,000 a year. The study debunked the positive effects on personality normally attributed to the clubs. Emotional stability and personality development take a similar course in youngsters whether or not they are club members.

The study also rejects the view that sports clubs have a positive influence on drug-taking, violence and crime: "Most drinking and smoking occurs among soccer and handball players".

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