Today (6th Nov) saw Vicci Wells, our Head of Sport, deliver a keynote address at the School Games Regional Conference in Coventry. Across the next two weeks School Games Organisers, Active Partnerships and National Governing Bodies around the country will be coming together to learn, share and collaborate around how the School Games can continue to make a meaningful difference to young people’s lives.
In the keynote, Vicci discussed the transformative power of sport and the role School Games specifically plays in empowering young people, increasing engagement in physical activity and increasing their sense of belonging to their communities, drawing on real-life experiences like Billy's remarkable journey.
Understanding the Struggles
Many young people face inequalities every day in our schools, young people like Billy.
Billy is a student in Year 6 at Errington Primary School and over the years Billy has faced numerous hurdles. Small for his age and on the Special Educational Needs (SEN) register, he found it challenging at both break and lunchtimes when playing with his peers to cope with winning and losing. This often resulted in Billy feeling unable to regulate his emotions and thus often resorting to running away from difficult situations. Many young people across the country share similar struggles, particularly following the global pandemic where turn taking, interacting and playing sports with peers was not possible for such a long period of time due to social distancing.
The Turning Point: Transformative Power of Sport
Thanks to the power of sport and the dedicated staff at Errington Primary School, Billy underwent an incredible transformation, as sport in its broader sense, became the catalyst for change in his life. Structured sports activities, backed by staff who understood the science behind physical activity, opened up new opportunities for him. The local School Games Organiser, Andy Tennyson, delivered training to the school around the importance of young people achieving the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of 60 active minutes a day. A passionate Head Teacher, a dedicated staff team and a shared commitment to look at what they could do together to increase physical activity for their young people, led to some brilliant successes.
Becoming a Leader
The extraordinary progress in Billy’s life was plain to see. He was integrated into the Year 6 Playground Leader Team, becoming a Welfare Officer and a Mental Health Ambassador. He started supporting children in need, offering companionship and support. Most remarkably, Billy initiated other activities, demonstrating his newfound independence and in the classroom, he became more focused and engaged. His participation in a school trip to Edinburgh was a testament to his remarkable growth, as a year before it would not have been an option for him to attend. The sense of belonging Billy now has in, and with school, has led to raised confidence, aspirations and friendships with peers.
Data Speaks Volumes
Billy’s success story is an inspiration to everyone and demonstrates the power sport has to transform young lives. Unfortunately, there are many young people facing challenges like Billy all over the country and the wider data shows the extent of the issues facing children and young people today:
- Only 47% of young people in England meet the minimum physical activity levels.
- Enjoyment levels for girls are falling, in 2016 74% of all girls enjoyed PE
- Young people's weekday sedentary time remains higher than pre-pandemic levels.
- Many young people feel unheard, especially in school, with 56% of boys and 47% of girls wanting a say in their physical education and after-school activities.
However, not all statistics paint a gloomy picture:
- 54% of children wish to engage in more exercise or sports.
- Nearly two thirds of all girls (64%) want to be more active in school.
- Sport increases underachieving pupils’ numeracy skills by 29%.
The Transformative Power of the School Games
Sport is more than just games; they are a platform for change, for building resilience, increasing confidence, and developing leadership skills. The School Games is a national strategy and an important tool for advocating for 60 minutes of daily activity, supporting the personal development of young people and ensuring all competition has a clear intent, creating positive experiences and meaningful opportunities for the young people who need our support most.
In Billy's case, sport was instrumental in turning him from a runaway into a leader. It's vitally important everyone recognizes this potential in the lives of vulnerable young people.
While progress is being made, the work is far from over. There is a vital role for organisations like the Youth Sport Trust, Active Partnerships, National Governing Bodies of Sport and the whole of the School Games infrastructure to play their part in facilitating the growth and development of young people that often face the greatest inequalities. By understanding the value of physical activity, addressing deepening inequalities, and supporting diverse needs, we can help more children like Billy find their path to leadership and success.
This article serves as a call to action, a reminder that sport has the power to transform lives and empower those who need it most. As we continue our mission at the Youth Sport Trust, we are committed to being the catalyst for positive change, helping every young person discover their potential. Together, we can make a difference, one inspiring story at a time.
Vicci Wells, Head of Sport, Youth Sport Trust