Children who play organized sports are found to be more likely to engage in active play in their free time. (iStock)

Organized sport does not interfere with children’s free play: study

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There has been concern in Canada that families may over schedule their children in organized sports to the detriment of free play. Free play is seen as important to a child’s overall health and development.

A new study from the University of Toronto and McMaster University suggests the concern is unfounded. A five-year review of 2,278 children aged nine to 10 years found that higher participation in organized sport was associated with increased participation in free play over time.

The result did not depend on age or socioeconomic status but boys with high levels of organized activity were found to have the highest levels of free play.

Researchers say it could be that organized sports give children skills and physical literacy that allow them to participate in more active free play. (iStock)

Cause not determined

Researchers are not sure if the overall result was because organized sport gave children better skills to engage in free play or whether it is simply that active children seek out both organized and unorganized physical activity.

“Given the importance of free active play to development, it is reassuring to see that participation in organized sport and physical activity does not negatively affect discretionary active play,” says John Cairney, a professor at the University of Toronto. “Our results show that although participation in active free play peaks at approximately age 12 and then declines to age 14, children who participate in organized sport and physical activity maintain a higher level of active free play relative to their peers who are not involved in these organized activities.”

The study was published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal.

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