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Sports is important to life, speaker says

Sports teach youngsters life lessons, such as how to deal with adversity and develop character.

"The impact that sports can have is not just if we have a direct relationship with sports, but the people who come to work for our companies," Bend author John O'Sullivan told a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Forum audience Monday at Rogue Valley Country Club.

The founder of Changing the Game Project said coming generations are benefited when communities do sports the right way and intentionally create an environment that goes beyond winning and imbues intangibles.

However, three quarters of today's children abandon organized sports by the time they are 13.

"What's happening now is that we're cutting physical education, cutting recess time, even though we know that active children do better in school and they're healthier," O'Sullivan said.

The result has been that a docile, sedentary generation has emerged that researchers predict will die much younger than their forebears.

"For the first time in human history, today's 10-year-olds have a shorter life expectancy by five years than their parents do, due to inactivity," O'Sullivan said. "The average child in the U.S. and U.K. spends less time outdoors per day than a federal prisoner, so we got to get our kids moving again."

Active parents raise active kids who do better in school, are less likely to abuse drugs, more likely to go to college, make more money in their lifetimes, and have lower health care costs, he said.

When kids drop out of sports in their preteen years, it's the exact age when lifetime habits are formed.

"The active 10-, 11-, 12-year-old is very likely going to be active the rest of his or her life. The child who has given up sports by then is very unlikely to go back," he said.

Whether it's team sports or participatory and outdoor activities, O'Sullivan said, it's important to promote activity for preteens.

"Sports matter, because our kids need activity, they need to move," O'Sullivan said. "It will help them in school and will help them in life. Sports matter in this community because it brings visitors, it brings tourism, it brings dollars to our community. They teach life lessons, they teach dealing with adversity, they teach character."

Kids play sports to have fun, and it should stay that way, he said. Even Olympians say that.

"Now, they might define fun differently as a 26-year-old Olympian than they do as an 8-year-old," O'Sullivan said. "None of them are going, 'Because of the snack,' but they still say because it's fun."

Asked the most memorable trait of their favorite coaches, he said, people identify mentors who connected well 90 percent of the time.

He said youth sports entities need to work together to allow kids to be multisport athletes, especially prior to age 12.

"I've worked with communities where I sat down with people and it was the first time the lacrosse people, hockey people and soccer people ever sat in the same room," O'Sullivan said. "If I wasn't doing the Changing the Game Project, I would start a multisport club with really good coaching that allows kids to focus on one sport per season, but not in competition with each other."

O'Sullivan encouraged the audience to support youth sports organizations.

"The ones that are doing it right invest in them, give them the dollars to give scholarships to kids who can't afford to play," he said. "Give them the ability to educate their coaches and engage their parents."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

John O'Sullivan