JAPAN - Ten-year-old boys 50 years ago could throw a softball six meters farther than boys of that age today, the sports ministry's annual survey on physical strength and athletic ability revealed.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry released the results of its 2013 annual survey on Sunday, ahead of Health-Sports Day on Monday. Physical characteristics such as height tended to improve over the past 50 years, and the results for the side-step exercise also improved. However, boys' throwing ability dropped noticeably compared to other surveyed movements.
Starting with the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, the survey marked its 50th anniversary this year. In the overall analysis, the physical and athletic ability of those surveyed in the range of children to adults improved until about 1985, and then there was a downward trend until 1998. The records for primary and middle school students have been recovering comprehensively since then, but remain lower than the 1985 level.
"Keeping the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in mind, we want to boost young people's abilities to the peak level," the ministry official said.
In this year's report, the ministry compared the 10-year-olds' average records at intervals of about 25 years - 1964, 1989 and 2013 - for the movements that have been surveyed from the outset. In grip strength, the boys and girls of 1989 were best.
The 1989 cohort was also best in the 50-meter-run, with times of 9.20 seconds for boys and 9.41 seconds for girls. However, the differences between those of 1964 and 2013 were less than 0.2 seconds.
In the results of the 20-second-side step, a movement to check instanta-neous power, the numbers for the 2013's cohorts were the best, with 42.97 times for boys and 40.69 times for girls. The numbers for 1964's boys and girls were the lowest.
The results of boys' ball throwing have been gradually declining, from 30.38 meters in 1964 to 28.37 meters in 1989, and 24.45 meters in 2013.
The throwing ability of 10-year-old girls is about 50 per cent to 60 per cent of boys' ability, even though girls were taller than boys at that age for all three generations.
According to an expert, the results for ball throwing depend greatly on factors such as experience and technique in addition to arm strength. The loss of playgrounds in modern life is behind such declines, as they had offered the opportunity to play catch and other games involving throwing movements, the expert analysis concludes.
Fewer chances for outdoor play
Decreased opportunities for children to play outside and a lack of such experience due to the declining numbers of playgrounds for exercise seem to be contributing to the lower level of children's athletic ability.
On Oct. 8, students of Yamanashi Gakuin University taught children how to play outside during a break at Nanaho Primary School in Otsuki, Yamanashi Prefecture. Children played a game combining rock-paper-scissors with tag, and also a version of dodgeball with slightly complicated rules. The children were running and screaming, and when play time finished after 30 minutes, they said they wanted to play more.
A sixth-grade boy, 12, said, "Usually I stay in the library or do work for the student council during break time, but physical exercise makes me feel good."
The activity was started last academic year as part of the education ministry's project to support schools' efforts to improve children's physical strength, in cooperation with parental guardians and local residents. As the primary school is comprised of three schools that were integrated in 2009, more than half the students use the school bus. Friends' houses are far from each other, making it difficult to play in groups after school. The school's vice principal, 58, said: "As children use cars and play video games at home in their daily lives, their opportunities to play outside are declining. In particular, they have problems with throwing balls and their sense of balance."
Mitsuru Senda, chairman of the Association for Children's Environment, has been conducting a survey of children mainly in Yokohama on his own for a long time, which shows how outdoor spaces where children around the age of 10 can play have significantly decreased over the past 60 years. "Though opportunities to play outside have declined due to the decreased number of playgrounds and the spread of video games, playing outside with friends can naturally develop [one's] social nature, and physical strength and ability."
According to Prof. Kazuhiko Nakamura of the University of Yamanashi, who specializes in human growth and development, presently both boys and girls at primary schools spend less than one hour a day playing outside, about half of what was typical 30 years ago.