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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

To combat childhood obesity, DC SCORES makes exercising consistently fun

Program participants and alumni play on a U-16 team
run by volunteer DC SCORES coaches. 
Throughout September, DC SCORES is focusing on National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month -- the problem and numbers both locally and nationally, and what we, other organizations, foundations, and school districts are doing to combat it. We'll have more blog posts, daily Tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn updates during the month. We encourage you to join the conversation.


“The general question of whether early childhood programs can make a difference has been asked and answered in the affirmative innumerable times.” — Institute of Medicine, 2000

DC SCORES makes a difference.

Physical education during the school day is undoubtedly an important aspect of fighting childhood obesity, but it’s only part of the solution. This is especially true considering that children gain weight three times faster during the summer months. Kids need to exercise and stay active during out-of-school time.

In the District of Columbia, DC SCORES is the largest after-school program and gives children the opportunity to stay active year-round both physically and mentally.

Youth play at least 270 minutes of soccer weekly during 12-week fall and spring seasons and around 2-3 hours daily during 14 weeks of summer camps. During a typical week, students practice soccer on two afternoons and then spend Thursday or Friday — Thursdays for elementary schools and Fridays for middle schools — running up and down the field during Game Day.

DC SCORES coaches are trained to dole out equal playing time to all program participants so that no one is left inactive on the sideline. We run the only elementary and middle public school soccer leagues for both boys and girls in the District.

That’s the case partly because budget cuts have dealt a blow to physical education programs all over the country. Only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools, and 2.1 percent of high schools provide daily physical education or its equivalent for the entire school year. Twenty-two percent of schools nationally do not require students to take any physical education at all.

In the District, the problem is more severe. Many of the 1,500 students DC SCORES serves attend schools that have a glaring lack of after-school sports opportunities. Some schools might offer open gym here and there, but very few provide anything as consistent as our program. If a child doesn’t have an opportunity to be active during school and his or her parents’ financial status eliminates the chances of paid athletics, the child is essentially cornered into unhealthy habits. In poorer neighborhoods, it is often not safe for elementary school youth to go outside and play. More than likely, parents are at work and local playgrounds are not well maintained if present at all.

DC SCORES participants get 270 minutes of exercise
each week through soccer practices and games. 
Fighting childhood obesity is ineffective if kids exercise one week but take the next week off. Consistency is crucial. Showing up for youth is paramount.

DC SCORES provides a trusted and proven system of trained coaches who guide students through a soccer curriculum, which includes health and nutrition lessons and readily usable soccer practice plans that incorporate team building and leadership activities in addition to daily physical activity. DC SCORES resembles a stepping stone for children to learn and maintain healthy lifestyles. Children join a school team in third grade and follow a pipeline through eighth grade. High school alumni stay involved with DC SCORES through volunteer refereeing and organized events such as our annual alumni soccer tournament.

Research shows that early childhood experiences set a child on a course toward or away from a healthy life, including in adulthood. Children who have good nutrition, adequate physical activity, and safe and stimulating environments, grow up to be healthier. Brain development suffers when children’s home lives are wracked by the stress of making ends meet; this stress has lifelong effects that impair personal health in many ways.

The beauty of DC SCORES’ model is it makes physical activity fun. Children aren’t thinking as they run up and down the soccer field, ‘Man, I hate having to exercise!’ Rather, they’re thinking about kicking the ball or spreading the field so their teammates will pass to them.

Kids learn to love the sport and, as a byproduct, being fit and being able to keep up with their teammates.

We just finished a blog series on program alumni beginning college this fall (the last post on Claudia Merlos is a must-read). While Claudia is the only student we interviewed who is playing college soccer, all the young adults said they still play the game as much as they can for fun. That enjoyment of fitness through the sport was instilled during their DC SCORES years.

Furthermore, if you take in a high school soccer game in the District this fall, you will be watching dozens of program alumni on the field. The pipeline is long, and it’s resulted is healthier youth who learned the importance of taking care of themselves -- in a fun way -- through DC SCORES.

To learn more about DC SCORES’ impact on kids’ physical fitness, visit the Program Outcomes page of our website.

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