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Let’s get physical – why we need to change how we think about physical activity

With Dr Erica Randle & Mel Swale

Season 4 - Episode 5

Podcast 29:25
Dr Erica Randle in front of a mural, smiling and wearing a brown dress on a black top

What’s holding us back from moving more , and how do we overcome it?

Let’s say an old friend invites you to join their social netball league, and you’ve never played netball before. Are you super excited... or running for the hills?  

In this episode of In Good Health, Dr Erica Randle from LaTrobe University’s Centre for Sport and Social Impact, wants us to shift how we think about getting active, leaving notions of whether we’re good enough to move our bodies, behind. 

Erica shares some ideas and tools for anyone who wants to move more, or wants to help the people around them move more. 

  • Transcript

    Mel Swale  00:02

    I'd like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land of which I'm recording this, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations. And I'd like to thank those who have come before me and the Elders of the community that continue to provide their knowledge and expertise and guide me in all that I do. When I was in Healesville, I spent the majority of my childhood there up until Grade 5. And while I was there, I did a lot of outside play as a kid, my Auntie, she lived on some acreage which was in bushland.


    Sandro Demaio  00:41

    Mel is reflecting on the way she and her cousins played together as kids.


    Mel Swale  00:45

    So, spent a lot of our time, me and my cousin just exploring that bush land, we'd go on hikes, we’d go search for some of the animals, we found baby possums once, we'd be jumping creeks, we'd be in the creek if it was hot. But in summertime, when it was hot, you'd definitely take off your shoes, and there was no better feeling than when the river was running through your feet, your ankles, the cool River was really, really nice. We also I did a little bit of Taekwondo. So that was something that my Auntie really wanted us to do to learn how to defend ourselves. And that was really empowering actually, doing that with a lot of my cousins. We’d then pretend we were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So because we were actually learn how to do taekwondo, we'd then practice what we'd learned once a week, you know, out in the bush. So that was probably when I was more of a younger kid. When I was a little bit older, we got into rollerblades, there was always a huge bunch of cousins around. So whenever one of us would get into one thing, then it would sort of filter through the whole group. And we would just take over the streets, we'd create like, you know, little racetracks, we'd race each other. Whenever we'd fall over, we'd pretend like we weren't falling over, we're doing workouts and push-ups off the ground.


    Sandro Demaio  02:14

    What Mel’s

    s talking about here is probably familiar to a lot of you. But maybe it feels like a bygone era. I think we all sense that kids today have a very different experience than that of Mel and her   cousins. But is it actually true? Or am I just being nostalgic? Dr Erica Randall from the Centre for Sport and Social Impact at LaTrobe University has the answers. But she's also got a lot of questions like, if kids today really are less active than they used to be? What can we do about it? And what about us adults? How can we get more movement into our lives? But let's start at the start. So, Erica, are kids less active today than they used to be?


    Erica Randle  02:56

    I think the short answer Sandra is yes. I think anecdotally, a lot of people and a lot of parents see less children playing on the road. But things like active transport, so walking to school,riding to school happen less. And actually, I've just been at the physical activity conference in Melbourne, all of the data that was presented there for Australia particularly, was that children are less active than they used to be. So the guidelines tell us that a child should be active 60 minutes of every day, and then three times a week to do muscle strengthening building sort of activities. And yeah, that's not happening.  Being active, what does that mean? It can be a lot of things for children, you know, play is active physical activity and risky play is particularly important.


    Sandro Demaio  03:41

    Risky play sounds that sounds dangerous. What does that mean?


    Erica Randle  03:45

    Risky play is that kind of play where so it’s self-lead play, and it might be play that may look risky to parents that might mean walking along a log orsomething but it's not safe play. So it's really important for children's development because they start to learn their boundaries, and they start to sort of self-regulate. And that's important. It's important for emotional self-regulation, but also physical self-regulation, and often risky play happens outdoors. I work with Play Australia, a lot of that is around outdoor play particularly. So play may happen indoors. But  it's the outdoor play that's really important for children's development. But physical activity is also organised sport, and  I think that's changed potentially during COVID. We've seen a lot of families sort of move away from that organised sport of training and  it takes up a lot of family time, and some families haven't come back to sport. Physical activity for children and adolescents can be a lot of different things. And I think that's important because it's part of us learning how do we fit physical activity into all of our life and not just pocket it as organised sport, which a lot of people do, “Is my child active?” they play Basketball, but the truth is they may play Basketball once a week, but the guidelines tell us children need to be active every day. So what are we doing on the other five or six days a week, is what can be important.


    Sandro Demaio  05:06

    This is exactly the kind of thing Mel experienced as a kid. And it's exactly what she thinks is missing from her own kids’ childhood,


    Mel Swale  05:14

    They have a different sport on each day. They already know how to play Tennis, and how to play Basketball, every single sport, they've learned how to play it. Whereas I haven't, I'm learning a lot of the rules of this sport through them. So it's a very different way. But they're getting exposure to different social groups that way, which I never got as a kid, because it was always just me and my cousins, whereas my kids, they have different groups, depending on  where they are. So my daughter, she'll have tennis friends, those tennis friends go to her school, she doesn't speak to them at school, she onlyspeaks to them at tennis, because that's just how they sort of they put these friends in different groups.


    Sandro Demaio  05:56

    You said over time, the quantity,how much exercise or how much physical activity, and how active we are isn't necessarily changing. But the quality of the of the activity, has that changed in the last few decades?


    Erica Randle  06:11

    Yeah, I think the outdoor play potentially has decreased in terms of, I guess, how we play.


    Sandro Demaio  06:17

    We think back to our childhood in the 80s. And we remember running down the streets and going off. I mean, at least I have this recollection, I don't actually know if this is true, or whether we just look back on our childhood. I said, like I'm 90, , I think that it was this kind of totally different time. But I feel as though the kind of common perception is that we used to run around the streets and be out till dark and it was free and easy, that risky play that you're talking about. But we're far less so today, is that actually true?


    Erica Randle  06:48

    A few years ago, we did some work with Sport Australia on the physical literacy framework.  Physical literacy is just about how we move. In Australia, we define it under domains such as the cognitive - Do we know how to move? The social -when we're around other people. How well do we move? Confidence -   the psychological “Am I motivated to move and am I confident to move?” And then the physical - what skills, what can I do? And we did some workshops around Australia with all types of people from education, health, and sport. When we talked about physical literacy to them and said, “What do you think the problem is in Australia, because the research has shown that the physical literacy of children in Australia has decreased over time”. That's a real worry, because physical literacy, you need that for lifelong participation. So you never become a physically literate person. But the higher your physical literacy is, so the more motivated and confident you are, or the more you can be social and be active, the more likely you are to do so. And across the lifespan. And in those conversations in those workshops, that was the one anecdote that everybody kept coming back to was when I was a kid, I used to play outside until dark. And I remember that too. You know, I lived on a dirt road, we used to ride around with the family until dark, it was exactly  the same. It's that organised sport and organised physical activity, developed some domains of physical literacy, but we need that risky play for children to explore on their own and develop their own confidence and their own skills. And I think that is what we're missing.


    Sandro Demaio  08:25

    I find that concept so fascinating, almost like a light bulb moment, I'd never thought about physical literacy in that way, what influences physical literacy, and I have to say, I have a personal interest, because I am so physically illiterate, like I cannot catch a ball to save myself. I have never been into sport as a result of that.  And I've got a dad who loves to cook but cannot kick a ball to save himself either. What influences physical literacy in early in life?


    Erica Randle  08:54

    I think it definitely is what happens to you when you're trying to learn. This is only from my own research of particularly what happens in schools. And I think, for me, personally, this was my story. And I've seen it replicated a lot, but in people  in our 30s, and 40s and 50s. Now that we have these experiences in school that if we weren't good, we were forgotten about. And I do sometimes see that still now where you'll go to a Sport Club or a PE class. And  they'll be saying, “isn't this great?” But what about the five children that aren't here or the five children that are sitting down and it's always “Oh, don't worry about them” Because they they're not active or they're not sporty? And it's that identity early on, that can really give you that identity of I'm not  physically literate, or I'm not sporty, I'm not active. You may not be able to catch a ball but you might be able to do something else and perhaps you weren't able to explore that. So what scenario is good and some of the work we did in schools, particularly where they started to do alternative activities. So skateboarding, what's the one where you jump around on the gym or something?


    Sandro Demaio  10:11

    I'm just, I'm just listing more things I can't do.


    Erica Randle  10:14

    So they started to do these alternative activities. Different people are motivated by different things,  and they feel differently comfortable in different situations. So for some students, it was, well, I just want to be active by myself. So the gym is perfect for them. But I actually want to do it with my friend because that social connection is also important. But I don't want to play a team sport. Because the scariest moment for a child in school, if they're playing a team sport, like basketball, or football is when the ball comes towards them. And they think I can't catch it. And I saw that happen. I saw it happen in schools that I went to, and the Coach thought he was doing the right thing, he took three of those children to the side and gave them a personal lesson on  how to catch and I was like no, because what happens when someone makes a mistake is so important. They've now been singled out and made in front of the rest of the class, you can't catch. So that's been reinforced. Not only that, now I'm going to make you practice catching in front of everyone, something you can't do. Whereas had they have just kept going with the game, no worries, try again next time? Or why don't you just you know, in the game, try to hold your hands like this. And when you point it out to Coaches and PE teachers, they get it.


    Sandro Demaio  11:30

    Seems obvious,  but it happens so often.


    Erica Randle  11:34

    It happens so often. All of these things are important for me, I focus a lot on the social and the psychological. That's sort of my background of research. So that's what I look at a lot.


    Sandro Demaio  11:46

    I mean, you're literally describing my school time experience. It has actually given me kind of not goosebumps, but  whatever the bad version of that is. I mean, beep tests for me, like even the words, the sound, even now 30 years later, if I hear that sound, like I have a visceral reaction, and to a lot of people that probably sounds completelyweird.  It did feel quite like you're being singled out,  it was quite embarrassing, really.


    Erica Randle  12:14

    It's one of the things we talk about in our research, we developed the ’Doing Sport Differently Principles’ with VicHealth. The idea around that was to get sport and people designing physical activity interventions to just think a bit differently, because what we find is that people that have in the past designed physical activity interventions or sport are those people who love it. It's very challenging for somebody if you love something, you knowthe social norms, so you know how to walk into a sport club, and you're confident, but there is a whole part of the population that don't feel like that. And we need to start to develop interventions with them in mind, and it can be really difficult. I often say to sport coaches,  just take your sport hat off for a minute, imagine you're going into an art class, how does that feel? You're scared, okay, that's how someone feels coming into the sport club, or into the gym. If I had $1 for every story I've heard of a woman going to the carpark of a sport club or the gym, or a person going to  a new sport program and not getting out of the car, I'd be very rich. But in the car park just before you go in is where all of that fear happens.  What if I'm wearing the wrong thing? What if I've parked in the wrong spot? Where do I go? Who do I talk to? You know, will anybody like me? Am I not going to be able to do it right? And they often just sit in the car, put the key back on and drive off. And it's those people, so one of my mantras is you know, meet me in the car park, meet me  where I am, meet my fears and help me get over them. Because they're real. And a lot of people have the experience, I think we're finding more and more.


    Sandro Demaio  14:00

    What do we do, both if we're driving into the car park, but what do we do if we're hosting? You know, For the sports clubs, how do we do it better?


    Erica Randle  14:10

    Know your audience, and that's about developing the empathy and listening to them. It is that sort of co-design process, so meet them where they are, talk to them, learn about them. What are those touch points where they need to be supported? Where do they feel that fear, and one of them is the car park, another one is making a mistake. Train your coaches, when someone makes a mistake, this is how you should support them to get over it. And it's not training for performance. We're coaching for engagement, and that's really important. The other really big one is the whole customer journey. So people don't start their engagement with an activity at the car park or even when they finished the session. What happens before and after is really important. One of the most important ones is the social connection, and it should always start with the social.  I say toa lot of people don't tell me this physical activity or sport isn't going to be fun. Because actually, for me, if I was going to have fun, I'd go to the movies with my friends and eat cake. That's my idea of fun.


    Sandro Demaio  15:11

    It sounds like fun to me.


    Erica Randle  15:13

    It is going to be hard. But what I will enjoy is the social connection, have a picture ora little video of the coach on the website, this is the person you will see when you turn up, start to build that social connection before I even get there. Because the more I can see myself doing something, the more likely I am to do it.  If I see that person, and I start to develop a connection with somebody, this is the person that's going to meet you in the car park, if I see that on a website, I might be more likely then to start to dispel those fears.


    Sandro Demaio  15:47

    What other things could people do if they're if they're wanting toparticipate or get involved in things, but feelinga bit worried or scared?


    Erica Randle  16:00

    I think it's really important, ifyou're in a gym, or you're or you're planning something, you should get somebody who's never been there before and walk through the experience with them. That's a great way to say, “Hhat do you see?” So it could be I've just joined a Bowls Club for the first time. I've joined a club, a sport club for the first time in 25 years, with my Dad. One of the things there was when you go there, there's three different entrances and two different exits. And I didn't know where to go in, you know, but for the people who have been part of that Bowls Club, they know exactly what to do. And when I got there, and I said, which way do I drive out? They're like, What do you mean? Well, there's two different ways to drive out which one should I go to? Like, just do whichever! No, what are the rules and the norms here?  It could just look like that. So it could be one of the club people saying to me, what, did it feel like coming in and walking into the Club? And what do you see? New people see things that you don't, so there's no pictures of women in clubs,  when new people, women going into clubs see that? Do you just have pictures of the men's team, celebrating the men's team, but where's the women's team? Seeing your club and your setting or your gym through different eyes is  really important. Because if  know the social norms, or you're used to that place, seeing it the way that a different person than an active person, or someone that hasn't been there before, is a really good way to learn that sort of empathy.


    And if it's you, if it's me, joining that Bowls Club was a massive step. But I did it with my Dad, and some other people from the street. It's been really interesting. But  it's been about recognising that it is something new, and it's okay. It's okay. Just be calm. And I couldn't bowl and I can't really now after five weeks, but the confidence and the self-efficacy I guess it's  value is to me, and I value the time with my Dad. And if I can't bowl after a year, it still doesn't matter. Because it's an hour, two hours every week I get to spend with him, which is my motivation. I think probably that's the other message around that. The motivation piece, people are going to join your club and be active for a lot of different reasons. It's not just about the activity itself, it very rarely is, it's usually something to do with the social connection, or their felt benefits. And that's what's important. So learn about that. And if you're for the individual, do it with your friends, and find the supportive friends, so don’t find those friends that are going to point out your mistakes. But be  honest, I think as much as you can try and be honest. Tell the club and communicate, hey, that doesn't feel right to me. And if it doesn't feel right, and they don't listen, maybe that's not a safe space. But really good places will listen. I think that's really important.


    Sandro Demaio  19:04

    Tell me about 1000 Play Streets.


    Erica Randle  19:06

    So the 1000 Play Streets is a movement started by Play Australia. So Play Australia is the national body for play in Australia. I love that we have a national body for play. That's awesome. There's an international body as well, which is excellent.


    Sandro Demaio  19:26

    I would love to know what the conferences look like, Lots of play equipment, lots of skipping.


    Erica Randle  19:30

    But part of 1000 Play Streets is a movement to reclaim our quiet residential streets for play and  outdoor social connection. And essentially, it's working with the local government to close down and it’s  quiet residential streets. So it may be a court. It may be a street, maybe there could be cars parked on the side, but it's closing part of the street for a couple of hours and inviting all the neighbours, old people with kids, people without kids, out to play, and the less organisation the better, let them  self-direct how they play. So if they want to bring the cricket bat, play cricket, great, if they want to draw hopscotch on the road, great. The idea is that they connect, they meet each other, so we've had terrific stories of children meeting each other for the first time. But then after school, now they're more likely to ride around on their bikes together, they know each other. It's about improving parents confidence, and also their attitude towards outdoor play. So if I've seen them do it once, and I know now that they know the neighbours and they know the children, then maybe I'm more confident to let them ride their bikes by themselves together. And it's about social connection of adults and people meeting and we know that  we have a loneliness epidemic happening in Australia. So the more we can connect people that way, is terrific. Through COVID, it was really important that isolated older people had people that were checking on them. So it's two hours. And it may just happen once. And we've seen great impact from it just happening once and that t impact is sustainable over time, you know that there is that connection and play happening over time. It may be that you do it once a week or once a month, with there's some great streets doing it by themselves. Now there was one called soup and skate on a Friday night. So they've built a table at the end of their court. And at different points, parents come out and sit at that table and all the children come out and just skate up the street and they all eat soup together for dinner.


    Sandro Demaio  21:30

    That is amazing. It's great isn't it, I can't skate, but I can eat soup.


    Erica Randle  21:34

    Yeah. So just that table just by building a table there promotes that social connection with parents, or as with adults, without children as well. And that's really important.


    Sandro Demaio  21:46

    Mel makes another great point about the importance of letting kids play in the street, which is the value of independence.


    Mel Swale  21:53

    Because it was so many of us, no one would want that many kids inside and with that part of the rules were that you had to be out when the sunlight was up. She would let us you know, we had Ataris and Nintendo's those sorts of things. But majority of the time any of our Aunties and Uncles would prefer us outside. So there was just two rules, stick together, and come home to eat for lunch and dinner. Because we did have that freedom, we were trusted  as well. It did teach us to go out and explore the world become independent. So my Auntie was working full time as well. So she would leave before I had to go to school and she'd be home after. And there was no after before school care, or maybe there was and I just didn't know about it. But it was up to me to get myself to school. And then it was up to me to get home from school. So and a lot of the times it was walking, you know, one or two kms to school, I had to know what time I had to be there. What time I needed to leave home, I already had a key. I was in grade two, I think when I got a key to my house. And I never felt scared to do any of that.


    Sandro Demaio  23:01

    Tell me about the role of culture in you know, our love of sport, but also our relationship with sport here in Australia.


    Erica Randle  23:08

    There's some assumptions, I think around a lot of people about sport, that you just love it. I know when I go to have conversations, I tend to say look, I'm not sporty. I may work in sport, but I'm not sporty. And so we have that identity in Australia where we need to put ourselves in either camp. I love watching sport. But there are some traditions I guess around it or some structures around it that if we don't fit in our default is my identity is I don't love, I'm not sporty? Well actually there's this terrific middle ground wherewe can all meet in the middle. What's that fabulous Rumi quote, you know, there's a paddock at the back, I'll meet you there. I think if those identities are ingrained early on, that can be really detrimental. Conversely, positive relationships, you know, terrific for people for their physical activity over a lifetime. We did an experience experiment with VicHhealth and Vic Sport a few weeks ago where we brought 20 people together, and we gave 10 of them a good sport experience and 10 of them a bad one. And they didn't know which category they're gonna fit into. But we did that for the afternoon and we got them to participate in wheelchair basketball. And then we all got together afterwards and had a bit of, you know, how did that feel? And what can we learn from that experience? And one of the people said, Oh, I realised last night that actually, I had no idea what I was doing today and you hadn't sent me any of this information. I knew I needed to turn up at one o'clock, but I didn't know what I was doing or what was happening. And he was getting a bad experience. And he said, but that didn't bother me because I knew I could do it because I know I'm good at sport. So I knew whatever it was I could do it. He said  but if that was my sister, and she she's not confident, she doesn't consider herself as physically literate, she wouldn't have turned up. And so that's the difference. Sporty people who are confident who they've developed great physical literacy, are confident that they can do anything.


    Sandro Demaio  25:14

    What's the risk,  if we don't really look at the role of culture, in maybe leaving people out of the conversation or scaring people away from participating? Who do we leave behind?


    Erica Randle  25:27

    You know, the evidence suggests people in disadvantaged communities probably don't get those opportunities, because the incidental activity isn't there anymore. And so it's also those people who never had the opportunity to develop that confidence. And they may then have a whole lot more different, you know, health issues. So that might create some type of illness or chronic illness, you know, which then moves them further away from physical activity, we often say, you know, over the lifecycle, people are up and down. The reality is, is that nobody, really, there's very few people that are fully active their whole life, there will always be things that happen, which stop you being active, and that might be moving house and might be going to university and might be having a baby, might be getting married, getting a new job, something happens. It might be you know, I've heard stories of people having a poor experience. And now I'm never going back to that. I often say if we can just smooth that line across. If we can just help people at these changing moments, maybe we'd be better off in terms of physical activity for the country? What are those little moments where we can soften it a little bit?


    Sandro Demaio  26:43

    What advice would you have, for someone who's trying to find the confidence to navigate kind of physical space for the first time and isn't ready necessarily to jump into the gym or the or the soccer club?


    Erica Randle  26:54

    Yeah, I think start with you, and think about what's important to you, and think of something that you would enjoy. If you don't enjoy it, you won't keep going, for some people that might be walking around the block in green space. And if you have access to green space, terrific, start simple. Start with something that you will do. And it might be asking your friends, what do you do? What can I join in with? It might be, did you enjoy swimming, you know, as a child, is there something you can do it and go back to that, and looking for those there are beginner opportunities out there, you know, and looking for those, but if you can do it with a friend, great. And if you can start with something that you know you will enjoy, I think they're the two really big things.


    Mel Swale  27:43

    I had a lot of cousins around me. So I feel comfortable to let my kids go and do that. But I don't think they want to do it because it's just them. It's just their siblings. And they're not really connected to my family or even my husband side of the family because they don't live close anymore. They don't even know their neighbours. So we don't even know who's on our street. My son I'm trying to, you know, influence him to do that. So he's learning how to ride to different friend's houses. Yeah, and I think it's people not being scared to let their kids just be kids. Like they're going to be okay, if you let them go out. They don't need to have a phone. You don't need to know where they are every second of the day just need to sort of set some boundaries, and let them go out and explore the world.


    Sandro Demaio  28:40

    Thanks again to Mel and to Dr Erica Randall from the Centre for Sports and Social Impact. Between Mel's recollection of what sounds like a pretty idyllic childhood and all of Erica’s  suggestions for getting more movement in. I'm feeling pretty inspired to get out there and reclaim a bit of physical literacy for myself.


    If you enjoyed this episode of In Good Health, make sure you scroll back in your podcast feed because there's heaps more to dive into if you want to hear about healthy eating, better sleeping and keeping your mental health in check. And definitely hit follow while you're there because I've got a very special guest, some might say a national treasure, joining me in the next and final episode of this season, and I'm certain you won't want to miss it.

    In Good Health is a VicHealth podcast produced by Deadset Studios and hosted by me Dr Sandro Demaio.

Artwork by Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022
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Artwork Credit: Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022, acrylic on canvas. Learn more about this artwork.