‘Together Again’ – and an opportunity to develop children’s leadership skills

The Euro 2020 football tournament, test cricket, Wimbledon tennis, the golf majors and (probably) the Olympics… The list goes on. It is a wonderful summer of elite sport, helping to move, excite and inspire us. One of the pandemic’s most harmful effects has been its impact on children and their ability to take part in sport, games, play and physical activity more generally. That’s why this year’s National School Sport Week (21–25 June) is more welcome than ever, an opportunity to reboot children’s engagement with sport, a reminder of the importance of sport and physical activity for wellbeing — mental as well as physical — and a chance to develop key life skills such as leadership and teamwork.

Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive of Sport England, said back in January:

Developing children and young people’s physical literacy is essential in creating a positive and lifelong relationship with activity and without it many will not enjoy the health and social benefits associated with living active lives.

A January 2021 Sport England survey indicated a strong link between children who are physically active and individual development, good mental health, and rates of volunteering and wider community development. It also suggested that young people who engage in sport and physical activity are less likely to feel lonely. This year’s National School Sport Week has the theme Together Again to celebrate the importance of sport in bringing young people back together after a year in which so many have missed out.

National School Sport Week is organised by the children’s charity Youth Sport Trust. This year it is focusing particularly on the part that sport can play in developing children’s leadership skills — in its words, “empowering young leaders holds the key to getting a generation of young people more active.”

New research published this week by Youth Sport Trust indicates that:

  • a majority of young people want to do more sport and exercise
  • there has been a significant increase in young people who say they would play more sport if it was led by somebody their own age
  • taking part in sport led by somebody their own age is particularly important for young disabled people, with 46% saying this would lead to them playing more

This will be a real celebration of togetherness and the important, powerful role of sport in helping young people to recover from a year like no other. Sports days don’t have to be about being the best, strongest or quickest, they are a celebration of bringing us together and learning key skills like communication, empathy, teamwork and resilience.

As our new research highlights, this is not just about getting young people taking part but also empowering them to lead and drive change … Harnessing the important role of sport and activity to support the nation’s recovery from the pandemic will be a long-term challenge, but the activities taking place throughout this National School Sport Week will be an inspiring celebration of what is possible.

Ali Oliver MBE, chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust

We also recently highlighted new research published by Cambridge University indicating that a greater emphasis on physical activity could boost academic attainment and help to close the gap between wealthy and less advantaged pupils.

Life-Based Learning (LBL) recognises the importance of sport, physical activity and outdoor play in helping children to grow up physically and mentally healthy. The Body is one of nine learning themes that make up LBL. Its approach to health and wellbeing combines a focus on children learning how to look after themselves with a coordinated, whole-school focus on physical activity. A central feature of a life-based Body learning programme is a guaranteed 60 minutes of daily exercise for every child.

The image at the head of this article is from the Youth Sport trust website.

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