Coddled kids a crying shame
Computer games, junk food, political correctness and apathetic parents are inhibiting Kiwi kids' development, says physical educator Lee Corlett.
He has seen children cry because the grass on their school field hurts their bare feet, and kids who are so obese that they can't get up off the ground without help.
"This is what our parents are doing to some of our children. It's tragic, it's awful," he said.
Mr Corlett, of Sporting Initiative Nelson, every week teaches hundreds of Nelson children to "run, jump, throw, hop, skip, and catch, really well".
He adores his job but says he is dismayed by many Nelson youngsters' lack of physical skills and confidence, which he said were standard 20 years ago, before "PC gone nuts".
"School teachers don't have time any more, and mums and dads don't have time any more.
"My job is to try and create a habit in the child's mind that physical activity is real cool. And the hope is that will stay there for the rest of their lives.
"The physically capable children we are working with in Nelson tend to be the more academically capable child later on. That's cool," Mr Corlett said.
But parental apathy, and a lack of appreciation of the importance of physical activity for a child's development, is affecting children's attitudes toward exercise, something Mr Corlett fears will stay with them their entire lives.
"I'll go to the park down the street from our house and I'll see mum sitting there with her children. While they are playing, mum's busy on the cellphone. There's no interaction. It's really sad."
Lazy parenting also affected a child's work ethic, he said.
"Lots of New Zealand children don't have any perseverance. Lots of things are done by mum and dad, because it's quicker for mum to do it than for Johnny to learn to tie up his laces."
However, children didn't learn anything that way, other than reliance on their parents, Mr Corlett said.
He said his programme encouraged kids to get stuck into physical activities and to push themselves further than they otherwise would, in a safe and supported environment.
"We'll tell them why we do [an activity], and how it will help them later in life with sport or whatever. And we don't give the option of not doing it. I will help them until they get it."
He is imploring parents to do the same, so they can take an active role in their child's physical development.
Five minutes a day of activities was all it took, he said. Parents should also allow their children to experiment, to go outside their comfort zones and perhaps their parents' comfort zones. "If they climb a tree, let them climb a tree. It's a good thing."
It was also essential to create a balanced lifestyle, he said, "making art a part of their lives, physical activity a part of their lives, and, of course, schoolwork a part of their lives".
Four traits were common indicators that a child would succeed later in life, Mr Corlett said.
"Confidence, perseverance, a ‘give anything a go' attitude, and listening well. It's all about attitude, and so much of that comes from parents."
Before establishing Sporting Initiative Nelson, Mr Corlett was general manager at Sport Tasman, and head of the sport and recreation department at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.
He also has more than 20 years' experience as a physical trainer with the New Zealand Army.
Despite some of his concerns, Mr Corlett is passionate about his job and the kids he teaches.
He reckons he knows almost every preschooler in Nelson by name, and hopes to meet even more of the region's promising sports stars when he expands his programme to include rural area schools in 2014.
"I just love working with kids."