Article | Jun 01, 2017

Sports clubs to increase well-being of children and families

After school sports clubs are currently organised in every third primary school. Yet it is only approximately one third of pupils who can participate the recreational activities at schools, and many of the children spend their afternoons alone without guided activities. The project supporting children’s after school sports clubs is a joint effort between communities, sports associations, schools and businesses to improve children’s well-being.

The project, coordinated by the Finnish Olympic Committee, offers after school activities to help every child to find a hobby they enjoy. The sports club project aims to increase children’s mobility and activity and help families in their everyday lives. Sport for All - Sports Clubs Director Pekka Nikulainen from the Finnish Olympic Committee emphasizes that the goal is to offer versatile, low threshold activity taking into consideration children’s individual interests and skills.” We want to encourage especially those children who are not yet participating regular recreational activities”, he says. Sports activity costs at the clubs will be very low or completely free, depending on the sport.

Pekka Nikulainen

Pekka Nikulainen

Social activity to children’s everyday lives

Activity measurements and other national studies show that children’s daily exercise level is not as high as it should be. Recommendation per day is two to three hours. One hour is included in the school day and another hour should be covered by hobbies. Nikulainen says it’s the third hour, self-motivated recreational activity, which is the most challenging one. Outdoor games and plays are nowadays often replaced by screen time. “There’s division in children’s activity. There are children who are very active and others who do not exercise sports at all. The risk of social marginalization grows among less active children. We want to prevent this risk by providing equal sports club activities for all children”, Nikulainen explains.

Sports clubs are held during afternoons, because that is the time when children are more often on their own, without a company of an adult or guided activity. After school sports clubs bring activity and social relations to children’s school days. Activity has also proven to have beneficial impact on learning, which indicates that recreational activities may have very long-term effects.

Positive feedback on the pilot project in Lappeenranta

UPM is supporting the children’s after school sports clubs especially in those cities where UPM mills are located. For example, in Lappeenranta there’s a possibility that club activities will start in three schools during the semester 2017–2018. Lappeenranta was one of the cities in the project pilot phase for testing the current after school sports clubs model in 2015–2016. Children could try out different sports, from judo to football.

“We received very positive feedback on the previous low threshold club project from pupils, their guardians, and sports associations”, says Mari Routti, Head of General Education Division, City of Lappeenranta. The children’s after school sports clubs will be organized together with local sports associations, schools, teams and companies. The club activities in Lappeenranta are coordinated by Etelä-Karjalan Liikunta ja Urheilu ry. The association is negotiating with schools and local sports clubs of how to organize the club activities and which sports they should include. In Lappeenranta, the exact sports have not yet been decided, but the schools for the children’s clubs have already been chosen for the next semester.

“For the club project starting in the autumn, we have chosen large elementary schools. This way there will be enough pupils participating each club”, Routti says. The school selection was also partly based on factors which show that, compared to average figures in Finland, there are more inhabitants in the age group of 30 to 54 living in the area who are unemployed, who have low education and whose mother tongue is something else than Finnish.

“We have not established a connection with social exclusion here, but we want to ensure equality and parity of the families by supporting the club activities in these schools”, Routti clarifies. Routti recognizes historical tones in the project.

“I was very pleased to hear UPM is supporting these children’s after school sports clubs. One of the schools we selected is Kaukas school, located next to UPM Kaukas mills. Historically, mills looked after for their employees in various ways. I think in this case traditions meet modern time in a warm fashion”.

700 000 hours more movement

In 2017–2018, the project goal is to support at least 125 clubs on 40–50 cities across Finland. During the next three years, the aim is to encourage 10 000 children to take part in the sports clubs. Children’s after school sports clubs plan to increase movement by 700 000 hours by 2020.

According to the Finnish Olympic Committee, the funding can be applied for a club that is already running or establishing a new sports club. “80 percent of the companies’ support goes directly in the operational level”, Pekka Nikulainen says. The funding is targeted primarily to trainer’s fees, equipment and facilities. In addition to UPM, children’s after school sports club project is being supported by other companies such as Fazer, Omo, HKScan and Reima.

After school sports club project is part of UPM’s Biofore Share and Care programme. The programme focuses on projects that are relevant to both UPM’s business and responsibility goals. The focus areas are: Reading & Learning, Engaging with communities, Responsible water use and Boosting bioinnovations.


Petra Niemi

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