The Sport in Mind Spotlight on… children and young people.

 

 

Under Pressure…?

 

We’ve all experienced it; ‘been there’, under pressure. End of year tests, mocks, GCSEs. A common denominator.


 
Exam stress. Something we’ve all ‘grown together’ with. 

And its that theme of ‘Growing together’ that represents the central focus of this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week, running from 7-13 February:   https://www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk

So, what better time to think about proactive strategies to cope with a pressure that can adversely effect so many young people, and even more so in the context of the uncertainties associated with the pandemic?  https://www.standard.co.uk/news/education/75-percent-students-stress-anxiety-exam-changes-research-b921049.html

Perhaps what we need to consider here is a new meaning to the concept of ‘sport relief’. Almost seven years ago now I suggested some of the ways in which a considered focus on sport and physical activity within school might offset these pressures as part of a broader physical activity and mental wellbeing strategy: 

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jun/02/sport-relief-beating-exam-stress-bowls-boxing

This Guardian coverage of approaches at Park House in Newbury, an 11-18 school where I was privileged to be the Head for 17 years, includes commentary on: 

‘Impromptu running sessions (that) can be organised at any time before or after a busy day if individual students or groups request one as a “stress buster”….’

The fact that:

‘The school also encourages exercise breaks in the gym for individual students….’

And:

‘All PE lessons in the lead up to and during exams become “electives”, with students choosing the activities they would like to do as a relief from exam pressure’. 

Those activities and approaches were largely driven by our ‘Active Wellbeing Co-ordinator, a visionary colleague whose work focused on developing the positive relationship between physical activity and emotional and social welfare, developing a ‘bespoke’ programme of support and intervention for individuals and small groups of young people at the school.

Although this approach, combining as it did elements of counselling, guidance, ‘traditional’ pastoral care and PE , felt special at the time, I guess on reflection that it was still in essence reactive; a reaction to issues and challenges for young people that were already there; had been allowed to develop.

And its therefore as a proactive approach developing to mental health through sport and physical activity that the new Sport in Mind programme for schools is so different, so potentially transformative and so needed. 

https://www.sportinmind.org/schools

The new suite of learning resources are designed to form part of a school’s PSHE programme for Key Stage 3 and 4, fitting seamlessly into their existing Personal, Social and Education and Economic Education  curriculum offer. In doing so they provide young people with the opportunity to reflect for themselves on the benefits on the on-going physical activity to their mental health – and support curriculum leaders and teachers with the tools and resources to deliver high-quality and engaging PSHE lessons…

https://www.sportinmind.org/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=a16dae70-7120-4c16-99ac-9f58299bd881

Additionally, the wider Sport in Mind approach is predicated on the power of young people themselves. Young people taking responsibility, and volunteering to make a positive difference in their own communities. As one student volunteer form Queen Anne’s School in Reading so powerfully puts it…

I chose to volunteer at Sport In Mind after hearing about the charity at my school. I began to become more interested in the organisation and as soon as one of my teachers said that there were options to volunteer I immediately signed up! My highlight for volunteering at Sport In Mind is meeting groups of diverse and interesting individuals, which have helped to create a safe and fun community for everyone to get active and play games! I have found that Sport In Mind has not only improved the confidence and mental health of those who attend the sessions every week but has also helped me relax and have fun out of the stress of work and school. Throughout my time volunteering for the charity, I have learned how important it is to stay active and have fun in order to improve wellbeing and mental health. Within the sessions at Sport In Mind, my favourite activities and games to play are badminton and the many variations of dodgeball that have been created by the children!

As such, they offer a new, and timely opportunity for teachers and their students to ‘Grow Together’ in their awareness and understanding of the benefits of sport and physical activity to mental health. And in Children’s mental Health Week, there’s no time like the present.

 

Derek Peaple is the former Headteacher of Park School in Newbury, an Educational Consultant and Trustee of Sport in Mind