Invest Early for Future Physical Activity
When we talk about getting more people into physical activity or, more specifically, sport, we can bring to mind a whole range of interventions and positive projects that have broadly failed. We have long been aware of the extraordinary cost to the health service of inactive adults and we now, of course, have a growing awareness of the broader social benefits of engaging in a physically active life. So, what really works and where should we be investing our scarce resources to get the biggest return?
For me the answer is straight forward. Invest as much as you can, as early as you can, to ensure those first experiences are positive, and essential core skills and behaviours are developed for every child. So many of our beliefs, values and core behaviours are established even before key stage 2. Pam Stevenson, a close colleague, brilliantly describes that moment when the Harry Potter ‘Sorting Sporty Hat’ is placed on every child at the age of 7, firmly positioning them in their future group. So many, without resistance, have already accepted the label, reassured that they are just not suited to sport; they weren’t born with the physical attributes or, understandably, simply don’t enjoy it.
The word sport itself, of course, is way too narrow a term for what really matters, especially as for many of our PE specialists it too often refers to competitive team sports.
Today, it’s more important than ever that we get it right early. Professor Tanya Byron, child psychologist, reminds us that: “Our children are the first generation growing up in captivity.” Tanya said this in 2013 long before Covid! 32% of children and young people are doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Perhaps even more significantly, many already tell us they don’t feel confident exercising. And recent Sport England research* clearly highlights the benefits of establishing confidence and physical literacy competence early.
Finding engaging ways to increase levels of early physical activity can only be positive. But let’s remind ourselves, successful education is not just about what the child does when they are with us. We must embrace the fact that the real judgement is about what they choose to do when we are not around and, more significantly, how we positively shape their future choices. The investment becomes a force multiplier when we get it right early. ‘This girl can’ is rightly seen as a positive campaign but imagine the extraordinary return on ‘this girl is’ or ‘this young girl is committed for life!’.
The added truth is that schools and communities don’t have enough capacity to do it alone. Children need positive messages reinforced everywhere and often. We must engage families who are desperate for our guidance and support them to share in joyful active learning experiences with their young ones.
Ambition, self-belief and aspiration, are essential ‘learning nutrients’** that every child deserves to receive early and in large portions. Let’s invest in the future for every child by creating a positive relationship with physical activity for life.
If you would like to find out more about transforming PE experiences for EVERY child, teacher and family then please visit our website.
Ronnie Heath, Chief Executive Officer, real PE
* Sport England’s Active Lives Children and Young People Survey 20-21.
** Find out more about Learning Nutrition - Developing positive teaching habits to develop positive learning behaviours here.