This month sees another sporting spectacle, the Winter Olympic Games at Sochi in Russia, an event which will see over 90 nations compete for medals in a series of games where the backdrop to everything will be the frozen conditions supplied by Mother Nature.
In terms of sheer bravado and nerve, the speed and dexterity of winter sports is arguably even more compelling than the achievements made in the summer games. Bobsleighs can reach speeds in excess of 120kph while the men’s record for speed skating is over 52mph.
Winter fun: Just the preserve of Nordic countries?
In a country with no significant history of winter sports achievement (Torvill & Dean being an exception), it’s easy to look upon winter fun and games as being the preserve of Nordic countries or central Europeans.
But why? Part of the problem is the curse of modern health and safety, whereby any activity that has the remotest chance of causing the smallest of physical traumas is deemed unsafe or too risky. Yet it’s the thrill of risk and the adrenaline-pumping fear of losing control that, for many of today’s winter Olympic athletes, is the reason why they became addicted to their chosen sport in the first place.
43% of children would rather do chores than play outside
A study published by JCB Kids in April 2013, to mark its Fresh Air campaign, found that 43% of children would rather watch TV than go outside to play with friends. Unsurprisingly, the second most popular reason for hanging about indoors was to play computer games. Staggeringly children said they even preferred doing household chores or their homework to being outside!
Sam Johnson, spokesperson for JCB Kids, said: “It is alarming the extent to which today’s children are missing out on the outdoor play time which we enjoyed as children. Playing outdoors is so important for children – not only to help them stay active and healthy, but also to socialise with friends – and create those treasured childhood memories which we look back on so fondly.”
The benefits of risk in play
For many children of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, way before the advent of the internet, winter provided a great free outdoor playground where sledges were made with old bits of wood and hours were spent shivering in duffle coats making snowmen or igloos. And despite modern critics who dismiss the baby boomer generation for looking back through rose-tinted nostalgic spectacles, the truth of the matter is that we did have simple, innocent fun.
We also learnt about risk through injury and also came to respect the real dangers that winter can bring, such as skating on thin ice.
Let’s inspire the next Jenny Jones
At Eureka! we believe that every season offers all of us the chance to enjoy the great outdoors which is why our outdoor playscape is as important as our galleries. And when it does snow we have a great expanse of grass, with a mix of slopes and gradients that, who knows, might just inspire our next Jenny Jones.
At Sochi, Britain’s medal hopes are said to be a very modest: 3, if we’re lucky. While we’ll never beat nations like Canada and Norway where snow is an everyday part of life, we should at least get off the sofa when the first snowflakes come our way, get some fresh winter exercise and play our own version of the winter Olympic Games.
This blog first appeared as a column in the 7 February 2014 edition of the Halifax Courier.
Posted by Tom Warman at Thursday 13 February 2014
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Play provision and play space that is stimulating and exciting allows children to encounter and learn about risk." - Charter for Children's Play, Play England