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Sport for well-being of children affected by tsunami


Sport for well-being of children affected by tsunami

The SPARTS program (Sports and Arts initiative) aims to improve the physical and mental well-being of children affected by earthquakes and a tsunami in Japan through physical activities and music.

In 2011, the great earthquake and tsunami hit the coastal area of northern Japan and heavily impacted the lives of children. As many school facilities and playgrounds were destroyed, children have been facing various challenges without free spaces to play and opportunities for physical activity. Research has shown a significant decrease in physical strength and tendency towards depression among children affected by the disasters.

A number of projects using sport have been conducted in the disaster affected area by sport organisations, NGOs, companies and other institutions. The most popular form is an event type initiative whereby athletes provide lessons to or play with participants and interact with the communities. The duration of events vary from one day to a few days and can occur once or periodically. Different types of sport are used both indoors and outdoors. There are also psychosocial projects targeting elderly people who live in temporary housing to provide physical exercise in groups. While most of the activities target children and youth, there are no programmes focusing on physical education at schools.

To alleviate these issues, the University of Tsukuba has been implementing the SPARTS program which incorporates sport and art to support physical education at schools with limited space and time. The two minute physical exercise programme combines basic motor skill movements such as jumping, stepping and squatting  with music to improve children’s physical fitness and psychological condition. The unique aspect of the programme is its ability to be customised according to the environment of each school.

Since schools are the only place for those children to practice physical activities on a daily basis, the programme is designed to be compatible with the schools' schedules, easily adapted into classrooms and physical education sessions and to include simple physical movement which everybody can enjoy performing.

Even though each exercise is only two minutes long, scientifically structured activities can greatly improve children’s physical and mental well-being. Follow-up research indicated that children who participated in the programme showed an increase of physical strength and an improvement in their mood. Positive feedback from children performing daily exercises was also reported.

To use sport in supporting children who have experienced adversity, it is imperative to include specialists in both psychosocial care and physical activities. Although some projects in Japan involve professionals in psychosocial care, many of the initiatives use sport as a coping strategy, focusing more on sport rather than the psychosocial aspect. As the process of recovery and reconstruction is extended different issues will arise. It will be important to consecutively seek the use of sport in accordance with circumstances at different phases of the reconstruction process.

The SPARTS program has been implemented at eleven schools in three cities thus far in Japan, and it will continue its development to further support schools and children through physical activities.


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Satomi Tsuchiya


Wednesday, September 24, 2014 - 08:00