Do we have young people’s future in mind?

by Chris Wright, Head of Health and Wellbeing, Youth Sport Trust

You could say the picture for young people’s health is bleak.

We have declining physical activity rates, declining emotional wellbeing and, according to The Prince’s Trust, more than a quarter of young people do not feel in control of their lives. This stark reality for children’s health and wellbeing is set against the backdrop that schools are increasingly under pressure to raise young people's achievement and attainment.

Today, Theresa May will outline a way forward for tackling some of these issues and supporting schools in managing the increasing pressures on young people’s mental health and reducing depression and suicide. With increases in examination stress, social media pressure and negative body image it is easy to see how mental health is just as important to schools as academic success. That goes beyond Future in Mind for me - these new measures need to outline support for schools in coping with this UK-wide pandemic and how we can prevent these wellbeing issues from happening in the long term.

I agree that achievement and attainment of pupils is important. After all, if young people do not come out of school with the right qualifications then their chances of employment are that much smaller. But not at the detriment of their mental health and this now represents one of the greatest challenges schools face today.

At the Youth Sport Trust, we are committed to tackling these issues. We believe the role of PE, school sport and physical activity is critical in order to help schools address this issue. Extensive research both from our own charity and partners such as Public Health England, has proven beyond all doubt that physical activity can be one of the most important channels to reduce stress and anxiety and boost attitudes, as well improve physical wellbeing. 

Our Get to the Start Line project aims to build confidence and help alleviate the overwhelming stress young people face in preparing for exams. Our incredible Athlete Mentors go in to schools and support Year 10 and Year 11 students throughout the year leading up to their GCSEs, by sharing their experiences and advice with dealing with stress and high pressure situations in the sporting world.

Findings from a recent Get to the Start Line pilot project we ran in Northamptonshire has had unprecedented success in helping young people build strategies to managing stress and anxiety for exams and for life. Not only did it have a direct impact on wellbeing but young people actually achieved more in their GCSEs as a result! It is a great example of how we are working to improve the health and wellbeing of young people and take a preventative approach to young peoples’ emotional and physical wellbeing issues. 

Why are we so passionate about this? Head teachers are telling us that the declining physical and emotional health of young people is currently the biggest barrier to achievement. By getting young people more physically active, we will develop creative, aspirational, resilient and empathetic people that are ready to perform, fit for work and healthy for life.

Click here for more information on Get to the Start Line, and how your school can get involved.