Anyone who watched the two epic sporting events unravel on Sunday at Lords and Wimbledon could not fail to be inspired by the transformative power of sport at its very best. Agony for the losers, triumph for the winners although it feels wrong to label either New Zealand (who showed outstanding sportsmanship in losing) or Federer losers.
Watching both the cricket World Cup final and the Wimbledon men’s singles final with my wife and three daughters reminded us all of the beauty and excitement of competitive sport.
At school all three of our daughters have enjoyed playing competitive sport ever since they were seven. Regular sessions practising drills and skills and match play situations in preparation for fixtures against other schools formed an important part of their education; for the youngest it still is. Sport has played a major part in their upbringing and they know as well as anyone that life is competitive so it is as well to embrace it at an early age.
According to Monday’s Daily Telegraph, The School Sport and Activity Plan launched on Sunday, contains a range of new initiatives to innovate physical education in schools, especially for younger girls who have become disengaged from sport and disproportionately affected by a national crisis of inactivity. In a letter signed by almost 40 industry leaders backing The School Sport and Activity Plan, they say: “At a time of declining levels of well-being and when one third of children are inactive, young people are in dire need of a long-term joined up approach to youth sport”.
Sport England described the new action plan as a “great step forward” following its research last year which showed that only 14% of girls aged between 5 and 16 were achieving the recommended daily activity level of at least one hour, compared to 20% off boys.
Throwing her support behind the action plan is Laura Kenny, the most successful track cyclist in olympic history, who agrees that children should be more active. “What I know personally is the way (exercise) makes me feel when I go out and ride my bike. I get something that I call the ‘rest-day feeling’. I have a day off and feel groggy because I am sat indoors doing nothing and yet I feel so much better even if I have cycled to a cafe on a rest day. It gives you head space, time to think”.
In April the Daily Telegraph launched ‘Girls Inspired’, a campaign to close the gender sports gap in schools and keep girls active. The School Sport and Activity Plan looks to enshrine what the Daily Telegraph pushed for in its ‘Girls Inspired’ campaign namely: That boys and girls should have an equal and coordinated offer of sport meaning girls should be able to play sports like cricket, football and rugby if they want which hasn’t always been the case in schools; new guidelines will put the benefit of PE on a par with core subjects thereby recognising how physical literacy and PE can benefit other aspects of school life like behaviour and attainment; and lastly, schools to empower girls and offer wider sporting choice through ‘Girls Active’ and ‘This Girl Can’ schemes.
At whatever level sport should be available regularly to children; it should be well coached and there should be a competitive element. If only 14% of girls and 20% of boys are achieving the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day, what are the rest of them doing and why? Playing more sport has been said so many times as a way to get children more active and away from their games consoles, tablets and other devices, it’s shameful that not enough action has been taken by those who can make changes. Perhaps it takes the success of England wining the cricket World Cup on Sunday (and remember the women’s side are also world cup winners) to inspire more girls and boys to take up cricket but it shouldn’t be seen as the silver bullet to achieving significantly better stats than 14% and 20%.