It’s become something of a tradition for me to put up a post during National School Sports Week (NSSW) to talk about why I believe it’s super important. And so as the annual event comes around once more I wanted to put down a few thoughts about what makes any event that encourages children to be active so important. As this blog talks directly about the education system, in which I am employed, it’s important so say that as always, views are my own…
Over the last year ‘Wellbeing’ has become a real buzzword in education. As workloads for those in education get greater, and as an awareness of mental health issues in children becomes more prevalent there is rightly a focus upon:
the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy
(Oxford English Dictionary definition of wellbeing)
When we talk about wellbeing, sport is undoubtedly a key factor. It is widely recognised that there are a large number of physical health benefits associated with exercise and participation in sport, including reducing the risk of heart attacks, and helping to tackle obesity. To put the benefit into numerical terms, a Sport England study estimated that participation in regular exercise or sport activities can save up to £7000 per person in healthcare costs.
Furthermore, there are significant benefits for a persons’ mental health too. It is well known that even light or moderate exercise can release endorphins in the body that help to combat stress and reduce anxiety. Alongside this it is understood that, particularly among children and young people, involvement in sport can help to tackle self-esteem issues, can contribute to feelings of togetherness, and can help tackle body-image issues.
In a society where childhood obesity levels are rising and we are more health-conscious than ever any opportunity to encourage children to lead a healthier lifestyle must be seized upon. Child development experts suggest that particularly at primary school age children are influenced to develop habits for life, and if at a young age we can encourage children to live an active lifestyle we are encouraging them into lifestyle choices that will continue to reap benefits in later life. In addition the mental benefits seem indisputable – in a society where the UK education system seems to put more stress on children than ever before we have a responsibility to promote mental wellbeing to children, and physical activity is one of the ways we can tackle this.
What about those who don’t like sport?
Naturally within a school setting there will always be those who aren’t naturally interested in sport, or those who object to having to do even more than normal. Of course with most things children dislike, one of the key factors behind these feelings can be a fear of ‘under-performing’ or ‘failing’. It strikes me that in some curriculum areas like English or Maths there is clear differentiation – teachers will regularly give children different tasks (for example a different set of questions) and will focus on supporting them at their level. This helps the children to progress, as well as to experience that sense of achievement that they should rightly feel on completing a task, because they’ve been given ability-appropriate material. However sport seems to be one of those areas where, outside of formal coaching, a mixed-ability group will be thrown in together, and so naturally the weaker children struggle.
School is also a very difficult place to promote sport because of the nature of time restrictions, location restrictions and more. To be fair, school sport has moved on a lot since the days I went to school (where rounders, football and rugby seemed to be on an endless loop). For example in the school I work at children are introduced to a huge variety of sport within lessons from athletics through to parkour and lots in between, alongside a huge variety of after-school activities which further complement that. However I believe there’s always more to be done and activities like NSSW provide the opportunity to identify and signpost towards sports that may appeal to those who don’t enjoy your normal PE lessons (for example when I got to secondary I didn’t engage in those sports promoted in PE, but was presented with opportunities to do trampolining, rock climbing and skiing, which alongside my dance helped me maintain a level of fitness that has been essential to the sport that has now become my life).
So what about National School Sports Week?
In explaining why I believe sport is so important for children, I hope that some of these points will leave you with a similar passion. NSSW is a perfect opportunity for many children to take a first step to embarking upon a healthier, more active lifestyle. It provides schools with the opportunity to introduce children to sports that they might not normally get to try to due to curriculum time-constraints, and therefore hopefully identify opportunities for more children to participate in some form of physical activity. It also provides teachers with the perfect opportunity to talk more about the benefits of sport and to encourage children to get involved – something that is also all too often missed due to the nature of a full timetable. If children feel forced into their one hour of PE the likelihood is you’ll only engage those who already want to participate – having both the time to showcase different activities from normal, and to have those conversations around wellbeing and healthy lifestyles should be an integral part of encouraging children in to sport.
Of course, it’s not good enough to do this one week a year. As I’ve already mentioned sport has an important role to play in the physical and mental health of children. We wouldn’t dream of telling children to only brush their teeth one week a year, and likewise engaging children in sport should not be confined to such a short period either. Not only education but other children’s services too, need to see a culture change where there is a real emphasis on helping children to engage in sport in a field and at a level where they can experience that sense of achievement that motivates them to continue, so that in future it might be unthinkable that a week of promotion is even necessary.
I couldn’t write a post about sport without giving a mention to Right To Play, the charity I’m proud to be partnering with until at least the end of my racing season in 2018. In the UK we are incredibly lucky that all our children have the opportunity to engage in education. Not all children are so lucky. I began to support Right To Play because, like me, they passionately believe that sport and play can change lives. They work with over a million children each week in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, using sport and play to develop new skills, educate and transform the lives of disadvantaged children. They believe that through the power of play children can receive a high quality education, overcome obstacles and see their lives turn around. They train local people to lead these programmes, creating a long-term and sustainable solution for communities facing poverty, disease and conflict. As schools in this country spend a week giving their children some of the most brilliant sporting opportunities possible there are children in other parts of the world that desperately need the accessible education that Right To Play offer. If you’d like to support their work please head on over to: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/chrisrighttoplay
Read more about how I believe sport changes lives in my 2015 NSSW post