Improving mental and physical wellbeing

YST Improving mental and physical wellbeing
Tackling the decline in young people’s wellbeing through sport and play is central to our Believing in Every Child’s Future strategy.

Young people’s mental wellbeing decreases as they get older. Sport England’s Active Lives — Children and Young People report shows that when asked to rank happiness out of 10, average scores reduce significantly as young people get older:

  • Average score of 7.9 for ages 7-9
  • Average score of 6.2 for ages 13-16 

Nearly a quarter of children in England are obese or overweight by the time they start primary school aged five, and this rises to one third by the time they leave at the age of 11, the National Child Measurement Programme shows.

Sport England’s Active Lives report found a positive association between engagement in sport and physical activity and levels of mental wellbeing. Evidence shows that physical activity can improve physical, mental and social wellbeing. Active children are more likely to become active adults, and therefore less likely to suffer the consequences of ill health.

Programme: Girls Active

Girls are significantly more likely to be inactive than boys. Since 2013 Girls Active has helped identify the barriers to girls participating in physical activity and supported teachers to work with the girls to overcome them by working together to improve their PE, sport and physical activity provision.

In 2017 the programme expanded into primary schools through Stepping Up for Change. This sees secondary school aged girls trained to become role models who engage primary school pupils in physical activity. Initial evaluation shows this is increasing the capacity of schools to engage girls. Where activities had been running for a while, teachers are seeing the confidence, resilience and motivation of the Girls Active leaders develop.


  • 21,422 young people reached
  • 286 schools worked with
  • 323 teachers trained
  • 94% of secondary Girls Active leaders felt they could inspire other girls to be more active after receiving training
  • 92% of primary Girls Active leaders felt more enthusiastic about being active
  • 91% of teachers said they were inspired to make changes in the way PE was delivered in their schools.

Case study: Girls Active

Cariad Lucas (16), from Great Marlow School in Buckinghamshire won the Girls Active Award for Leader of the Year and the Girls Leadership and Marketing Squad (GLAM) group award. She led a transformation of physical activity for girls in her school and three local primary schools and helped set up an after-school Girls Active club.

She said: “Girls Active has changed me as a person; I am more confident and have been on an incredible journey which I only hope will continue. I have received countless opportunities to test myself and try new things, made new friends and inspired new girls. For all of that I can only say thank you to everyone involved.”

Programme: Active in Mind

Active in Mind focuses on improving children’s mental health. The project has seen 250 young people, aged 15 to 18, act as mentors to 750 young people experiencing mental wellbeing issues, supporting them in becoming physically active. These mentors are in turn supported by a lead adult Wellbeing Champion.


  • 78% of mentees reported that the project had increased the amount of physical activity they did in an average week
  • 56% of mentors stated they were much more active by the end of the project
  • 68% of mentees agreed that they now felt more confident talking to others than they did before taking part in the project
  • 63% of mentees agreed that they now felt more confident meeting new people
  • 70% agreed they had become more confident
  • 71% felt more relaxed
  • 61% said since taking part, they felt they were coping better.

Case study: Active in Mind

King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, empowered Year 11 mentors to create, design and implement a range of mental health interventions for a nurture group of Year 7 and 8 students recruited by the school’s pastoral leaders. It contained students with low to moderate-level mental health issues. The nurture group worked well alongside older students and grew in confidence, with the mentors accountable for tangible targets.

Year 11 pupil Finn McGoochan, who became a mentor, said: “Mental health can have such a damaging effect on students, and this project aimed to tackle it. It was hard at first, as the nurture group were very nervous, but by our second session they had become used to us and really had fun with some of our ideas.”

Our Impact

The following findings were presented as part of our 2018 Impact Report - published in February 2019. A full version of the report is available for download on this page.
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Promoting healthy and active lifestyles

YST delivers high-quality and inclusive competitive sport to young people in 20,851 schools through the School Games, while our Hub Schools provide a nontraditional sporting offer tailored to targeted groups of young people disengaged from sport and physical activity.
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Developing life skills

Our work uses the power of sport and play to help young people develop attributes like teamwork and resilience, leadership and communication skills which will help them to thrive in other areas of their lives.
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Boosting levels of attainment and achievement

Research shows a positive association between participation in physical activity and young people’s academic performance - as discussed during Professor John Ratey's keynote speech at the YST 2018 Annual Conference.
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Building connections between young people

Evaluation of our work shows that giving young people the opportunity to take part in sport can help provide a sense of belonging and the opportunity to make new friends.
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Enhancing support networks

Families, teachers, coaches, friends and peers all have a signifcant part to play in giving a young person the best start in life. A huge focus of our work is on enhancing these support networks to give them the best opportunity to make a positive impact on young people’s lives.
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