The biggest change to school sport in over a decade will kick off from today for hundreds of thousands of primary school students across Australia as part of a $100 million Abbott Government initiative to keep them fit, healthy and happy.

Minister for Health and Sport Sussan Ley will today launch the start of the Government’s new Sporting Schools programme, which will see thousands of primary schools across Australia access accredited coaches and programmes from more than 30 sports before, during or after school.

Today’s announcement is also supported by the release of a new online guide offering parents tips on how best to nurture their child’s interest in taking up a sport, as well as maintaining it as they get older.

Ms Ley said encouraging children to play a sport, rather than just exercise alone, was essential for their development. A quarter of Australian children are now overweight or obese and many more lack the basic skills like running, catching, throwing and kicking needed in everyday life.

“Sport is a way of life in Australia and for good reason – it not only keeps our children fit and healthy but teaches them skills for life,” Ms Ley said.

“But this has been in steady decline in recent decades with the increases in technology available to our children. We need to continue to emphasise the benefits of playing sport and physical activity from a young age, because it can help address weight problems and issues such as a lack of basic social and motor skills.

“Three-quarters of Australian kids spend their spare time watching television, yet only one third of children are managing the recommended hour of physical activity a day. Only half of our kids are involved in sport.

“That’s why our new Sporting Schools programme is so important to ensuring current and future generations of Australian kids keep fit, healthy and happy.”

Ms Ley said 13,000 deaths annually in Australia were attributed to physical inactivity and Sporting Schools was a core foundation of the Abbott Government’s Play.Sport.Australia. Strategy to improve participation in organised sport for people of all ages.

“Sporting Schools also provides children with the ability to try a number of different sports through formal programmes to find the ones they love the most, which will help parents save time and money,” Ms Ley said.

Almost 4,000 schools across the country have already registered for the $100 million Sporting Schools programme, with the aim to reach 5,700 schools covering 850,000 students by 2017.

Australian Sports Commission (ASC) CEO Simon Hollingsworth said Sporting Schools was a collaborative effort between the Federal Government, the ASC and more than 30 of Australia’s national sporting organisations to drive participation in sport.

“All Australian primary schools can now access fantastic sporting products developed by some of the nation’s leading sporting organisations,” Mr Hollingsworth said.

“Sporting Schools was developed on the basis of ‘skills not drills’ to help children develop a strong connection to sport and participation at a young age. This programme is a great example of the nation’s sporting community working together to help Australian children get active and into organised sport.”

The Australian Institute of Sport has also developed a new online guide offering tips to parents about how they can nurture their child’s growing interest in sport and convert it into a life-time love of participation. It was launched today in conjunction with the start of Sporting Schools.

Senior consultant at the AIS Dr Juanita Weissensteiner led the development of the online guide for parents.

“Research shows there’s been a definite reduction in the fundamental movement skills and competencies of our children, especially over the past 15 years,” Dr Weissensteiner said.

“Sporting Schools mixes a direct focus on skills with fun, and these are critical tools in addressing the issue. Importantly, it allows primary school children to sample a diversity of sports, which gives them a broader range of skills and a better chance of discovering the sports they most enjoy.

“There is evidence that children who struggle with fundamental skills have a higher tendency to drop out of sport when they reach their teens. Developing fundamental skills early can lead to greater self-belief and enjoyment, creating the potential for a life-long connection with sport and physical activity.”

Ms Ley said schools could still sign up for the Sporting Schools programme at where a link to the online guide for parents is also available.

Five tips to nurture your child’s sporting development

TIP 1: Foster a full range of fundamental movement skills. This includes kicking or hitting a ball, running, jumping, climbing and basic aquatic skills.

TIP 2: Promote play by setting up diverse and stimulating environments at home. Use a variety of areas around the home, like the backyard or even the hallway, to play. Provide a variety of sports equipment. Encourage ambidexterity (use of limbs on both sides of the body).

TIP 3: Foster everyday sport activity at home and be an effective support provider. Limit screen time at home. Provide a positive encouragement for sporting activity and get involved.

TIP 4: Insist on the right sport format and equipment. Sporting Schools provides a great choice of appropriate sport formats for primary school children that are lots of fun. Buy the right sized equipment.

TIP 5: Sample and have fun! Resist the temptation for your child to specialise in one sport too early. Sampling a large range of sports, at least until the age of 15, is likely to assist the development of a full range of sporting skills, coordination and control. It also minimises the risks of overuse injuries and allows kids to work out which sports they like most.