PARTNERSHIP FOR A HEALTHIER AMERICA AND THE FIRST LADY’S LET’S MOVE! INITIATIVE JOIN U.S. DARA TORRES, FITNESS EXPERT BOB HARPER AND ACTRESS CHRISTINE TAYLOR HELP USTA KICK OFF NATIONAL CHILDHOOD OBESITY AWARENESS MONTH AT US OPEN
An expert and celebrity fitness panel which included The Biggest Loser’s Bob Harper, U.S. Olympian Dara Torres and actress Christine Taylor helped the United States Tennis Association (USTA) kick off National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month on Saturday at the US Open.
To highlight the importance of healthy, active lifestyles and unveil a set of essential elements for increasing the quality and quantity of youth physical activity programming in America, the USTA, in collaboration with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), hosted the press event followed by a youth tennis exhibition at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The USTA’s youth tennis initiative is the single largest and important initiative in the history of the organization. Beginning Sept. 1 through Oct. 6 families can log on to YouthTennis.com, which will list more than a thousand events around the country where families can experience tennis.
Here’s a sampling of what the panel had to say on Saturday:
Bob Harper – Fitness expert, star of The Biggest Loser & NY Times Best-Selling Author:
“I see what’s going on in the average American household and what I really found is a common denominator. It starts at home. It’s all about what your children see in the home. Teens are spending up to seven hours a day in front of some sort of computer device. What I really try to get the parents to do is become more active. It’s just not telling your children what you want them to do; you’ve got to become a part of that solution and actually do what you want them to do.
“The biggest thing about this is, it doesn’t have to be so difficult. That’s why I’m so excited to be here today working with the USTA and talk about the fact that we can get our children active and get our families out on the courts and parks. Just getting parents more and more involved and showing them it’s not as difficult as it seems. Right now we’re looking at the rise of childhood obesity; we’re looking at type 2 diabetes in children. What I really do believe, sitting here with all these role models is, there’s hope. I really do believe we can make a change by having these conversations and you guys listening to what we have to say. There’s change out there happening and we just have to continue to get involved and also have to get our communities involved. I’m excited the USTA has brought the free tennis Play Days to children around the country.”
Dara Torres – Five-time US Olympian & Gold Medalist:
“I am an athlete and a mom. To get kids initially engaged and to get them to stick to something, you have to make it fun. You need to find a program where the coach is going to make it fun. My daughter started tennis when she was two-and-a-half. And when I went to go to the program and watch, the coach was awesome. He had squishy balls that they played with so they can’t get hurt, and he was always playing games with them. She loved it and if I didn’t get on the tennis courts and start hitting balls with her, she would be so bored so I think it’s very important to engage kids and make sure they always have fun. Kids also want to be able to experience success while being engaged. That’s why the USTA’s Youth Tennis Initiative is great for kids. They can experience that engagement and success right away. There’s not a feeling of being overwhelmed by the sport or the experience. The experience is most important.
“When sports are too serious it’s not fun for the child. Kids need to have fun. I stayed in swimming so long because I had coaches that liked to play water polo and liked to do Marco Polo in practice; not all the time, I mean I didn’t get to the Olympics by doing these things, but on Fridays after we finished a workout. We’d have relays to duke it out, they always made it fun.
“There’s a big role for coaches and parents to play in the personal and athletic lives of their children. Kids need parents who are supportive of whatever they try. When you play with the whole family, success can be shared by everyone.”
Cullen Jones – Two-time US Olympian & Gold Medalist:
“Given the title of role model, that’s the biggest thing that I want kids to understand is be athletic, go out, have a good time. Do I like playing video games? Sure, but go outside, be social; this is one of the biggest problems. I work with the initiative called Make A Splash and I get kids water safe through drowning prevention.
“The biggest thing we really want to push is being active. I never had to choose at a young age which sport I would try because I just wanted to play them all. I wanted to play soccer, I wanted to play tennis, I wanted to swim, I wanted to play basketball. My parents never made me choose; I had to make that decision for myself.
It’s a huge problem in the U.S. and we really want to see more kids learning to be active. Be healthy, choose greens. That’s one of the biggest things with my mom, I swear. She used to put Italian dressing on broccoli because I wouldn’t eat it any other way. Finding ways for kids to be healthy is very, very important. Whether it’s putting Italian dressing on broccoli or if it’s just making the right decisions.
“That is the biggest message right now. We really just want to get kids healthy.”
Christine Taylor – Noted actress, avid tennis player and tennis mom:
“My kids were born into a funny family and none of this stuff really came natural to my husband or I; we’re not professionals. I grew up loving tennis – watching it, playing it –but I didn’t have that competitive drive. So to make it fun is what it’s all about for me in my household.
“The other really great thing that I’ve found is homemade obstacle courses, just with objects in your house. Really tricking them into the physical activity, because it doesn’t feel like it when it’s fun, it’s a game. For me to be a part of the USTA and the 10 and Under initiative is really just a gift because of my love for the game.”
Kurt Kamperman – USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis:
“We have a serious problem. We’ve got this whole group of passive sedentary kids. There’s some kids in the middle, but then a professionalization of youth sports that is causing kids to burn out and look at activity and sports as a job.
“Fortunately, not everybody’s got it wrong. We have some great examples here today; people that have got it right. Many youth sports in this country have it wrong. They are encouraging kids to specialize sooner and sooner. And really, making it all about winning too early.
“The one common theme here is that it’s really going to take all of us to really address this issue of physical inactivity and also the issue of repairing youth sports.
“The USTA is taking this very seriously. We want tennis to be the model sport. And we are putting a lot of resources behind it to make it a model sport. We changed the rules of the game on Jan. 1. Until this year, a 9-year-old boy or girl had to play on the same size court as Andy Roddick and Serena Williams. Andy’s 6-foot-2 and an average boy is 4-foot-2. Doesn’t matter, you’re going to play on the same size court, same size racquet and with the same fast balls. We changed things because we weren’t getting enough younger kids playing tennis. We figured if we didn’t get them at a younger age we wouldn’t get them at an older age.”
Sam Kass – White House Asst. Chef Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives:
“Many youth sports in this country have it wrong. They are encouraging kids to specialize sooner and sooner, and really, making it all about winning and much too early.
“The partnership with the USTA for us has been groundbreaking and unprecedented. Right now we are raising the most sedentary generation in our history. On the average an American child is spending seven and a half hours in front of a screen everyday. Seven and a half hours. As long as that continues we will not have a generation that reaches their full potential and lives those vibrant lives that they deserve.”
Larry Soler – President and Chief Executive Officer, Partnership of Healthy America:
“One in three kids are over-weight or obese today. We know that every kid should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. The reality is 32 percent of elementary school students and 29 percent of high school students are getting that. So we’re not doing a good enough job. We can do better and we must do better.
“The inactivity that we’re facing and the obesity means that kids are going to suffer more deadly diseases like diabetes. More than one in three kids born in the year 2000 are going to develop that within their lifetime. Kids don’t get the benefits from physical activity, the mental well-being, mental health, improved academics. If you think about it, what’s physical activity? It’s one of the few things we do that helps us stay healthy; it helps us feel better, happier, improve our overall outlook and performance. It’s free. But still, it’s a big challenge.
“PHA was created in 2010 to help bring an end to the childhood obesity crisis. We work with our honorary chair, First Lady Michelle Obama and the Let’s Move program to develop voluntary brands with companies in the private sector to help us solve this problem. We have over 30 organizations that have signed on to work with us.
Michael Bergeron – Ph.D.,Chair, National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute:
“This is truly an inactivity epidemic. Your physical activity is the biggest determinant of your wellness and frankly your risk of dying as an adult. So it’s imperative that people are regularly active for so many reasons. If we’re going to have youth sports be part of this solution it has to be accessible and we have to break down the barriers and be more inclusive and not exclusive and come up with some creative opportunities to make sports available to all kids. The key thing to make that work then is to have that key entry point and be a workable entry point and especially at the early parts of developing an athlete. So that is the beauty of what the USTA is doing with 10 and Under Tennis. It’s changing the entry point. It’s changing how kids are introduced to the sport so that they are more likely to stay with it.”
Tim Morehouse: Three-time US Olympian in fencing:
“For me, I just got back from my third Olympic Games and my background is also education. I was a seventh-grade teacher for three years at Washington Heights Public School. I remember the kids would come in with Skittles and Diet Coke for breakfast and the lunch at our schools they were barely eating. They had gym twice a week and a lot of the girls were sitting on the sidelines. I think we have a lot of issues to tackle.
“I was someone that grew up playing baseball and luckily my school had fencing. I saw a sign that said, ‘Join the fencing team, get out of gym.’ (laughter) That’s how it started. I got a C+ in fencing my first semester as well. I somehow made the Olympic team after that.”