Author - Michael Ledzion

How to Encourage a Positive Sporting Environment

The physical benefits of sport are undeniable. The real news from the past few years has been all the research confirming that taking part in sport or physical activity has a (huge) positive impact on your mental and physical health. Yet the fittest five children in a year 6 class today are less fit than the least fit were 20 years ago.

 

How physical activity can stimulate positive mental health

Participating in sports has long been on the school curriculum; teachers have long been of the opinion that there are many benefits to taking part in sporting activities, team sports in particular.  But in many schools across the UK it is being squeezed out for that last minute revision or other remedial academic study.

Sport England’s recent published figures have shown that although Covid-19 lockdowns and home schooling reduced the number of children and young people taking part in physical activity, it is by no means as much as many had feared.  Their latest Active Lives Children and Young People Survey found that in the 2019/20 academic year, 45% of children and young people were meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines – doing sport or physical activity for an average of 60 minutes plus per day – just a 2% decrease on the previous academic year.

Sport and physical activity programmes online, such as Joe Wicks’ ‘PE with Joe’ helped enormously in encouraging children and young people to continue with exercising.  But as children and young people return to schools, colleges and universities, how can teachers and parents encourage a positive sporting environment?

 

Encouraging a positive sporting environment

Public Health England’s publication, ‘Guidance to Increase Physical Activity Among Children and Young People in Schools and Colleges’, sets out 8 key principles to encourage a positive sporting environment:

  1. Develop and deliver multi-component approaches – adopting a ‘whole community’ approach that incorporates curricular learning with culture, ethos, environment and engagement across the school/college community.  Develop a school-to-school support network where you can discuss ideas, challenges and solutions to problems in order to improve attitudes to sport.
  2. Ensure a skilled workforce – ensuring staff have the competence and confidence in providing sport and physical activities. An earlier blog talks about role modelling and mirror neurones: Children are genetically wired to copy their teachers, so engage sportspeople to teach sport and PE. And just because someone may be injured doesn’t mean they can’t take on another role, such as referee or coach.
  3. Engage the students’ voice – giving students a voice and encouraging them to take ‘ownership’ of physical activity that will bring energy and creativity to the activities way beyond what us adults can invent.  Give students responsibility and engage with them, and their families, ask what they’d like to try and take on board what isn’t working.
  4. Create active environments – ensure there is good access to sport and physical activities including equipment, play materials and open spaces.
  5. Offer choice and variety – offering a wider variety of sport and physical activity opportunities, as well as a balance between traditional sports and more fun games. Invite all local sports and activity providers to be listed on your “local clubs” ideas board to share with parents, and invite them in to do taster days.
  6. Embed in the curriculum – increase the amount of physical activity time in the curriculum.
  7. Promote active travel – contributes to children and young people’s physical activity levels.  Always make sure personal safety is a priority and students get home safely after an away game, which also reassures parents and carers.
  8. Embed monitoring and evaluation – consistent, effective evaluation of physical activity.

However, whilst these present useful guidelines, essentially children and young people love playing sports because:

  • The more fun it is, the more engaged they are and the more willing they are to take part.
  • Learning and developing new skills helps them be better at their sport or physical activity and so boosts confidence and performance.
  • They feel good – which is healthy – and develops their fitness, in and out of school.
  • Humans are wired to be active. It’s how we develop important parts of our brain, and helps us achieve more in all walks of life.

 

Ultimately, physical activity builds the brain so teachers can fill the brain!

Sports for Schools is a social enterprise that works with top athletes from around the UK and Ireland visiting primary schools to inspire and encourage kids of all abilities, and teachers, to be more active.  Our mission is to Activate, Educate, Motivate and Innovate schools and parents through a series of events and workshops.  If you’d like your school or parents to get active, get in touch with us and see how we could help you inspire our next generation.

5 Ways to Talk and Encourage a Positive Body Image for Your Child

There has been a worrying rise in body image consciousness amongst children and young adults.  Sometimes it stems from early childhood years at home or later peer pressure, or the impact of media, especially social media, body image attitudes sets the stage for potential eating disorders as they grow into adulthood.

Figures like 40% to 60% of elementary school girls (age 6 to 12) are concerned about being too fat, or worry about gaining weight, are red flag signals.  Parents and teachers need to address this trend and turn the tide for our future generations.  Young and older children are very impressionable and sometimes, we’re just not careful enough about the words we use in front of our children.  So, what’s the best way to talk about and encourage a positive body image for children?

5 ways to encourage a positive body image

  1. Be a role model – our children copy our behaviours. Our brains have “mirror neurones” that are never switched off that teach us to copy others – whether the good or the bad.  The more negative we are about our own bodies, the more our children will pick up on this and be negative about their bodies.  Watch what you say: avoid using words such as ‘fat’ or ‘diet’ in front of your child; teach them about being comfortable with their bodies, especially as they grow older and their body changes shape.  Always be positive about the clothes they wear, how they look and tell them they are beautiful.
  2. Get physical – exercise is one of the best ways to maintain or lose weight and maintain a body shape.  It also boosts happiness, confidence and self-esteem.  Encourage your child to take part in any form of physical activity, sport at school or out of school sports at clubs or leisure centres. Set an expectation that they take part in at least two physical activities, and then find out which they’d like to try. Take them swimming, roller skating, dancing, or even just a walk.  If they’re worried about how they will look on the pitch or they believe they can’t do a sport because of their size, encourage them to look at examples of professional athletes who come in all shapes and sizes.
  3. Encourage a healthy food relationship – avoid labelling food ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and promote healthy eating.  Involve them in making their packed lunches and teach them about the health benefits of the food choices they are making.  For example, explain how many vitamins are in fruit or how nuts are good for brain activity, give them carrots and fresh veggies rather than cakes.  If they want to eat chips or have a cookie, don’t shame them.  Counteract this with ensuring nutritious, healthy food is always available.
  4. Appearance isn’t everything – explain to your child that the press or social media promotes a certain type of body image for the only reason that they want to sell something: what matters in life is what goes on in our heads, not what we look like. Think of all those amazing and inspiring Paralympians for example (see point 1 about role modelling).  The physical is just the surface of a person, it’s the non-physical attributes that matter in life, such as being kind to others, enjoying what you do, or being smart or funny.
  5. Empty stomach vs full stomach – teach your child how their digestive system works and why we eat when our stomachs feel ‘empty’, and don’t eat when our stomachs feel ‘full’.  Called ‘self-attuned eating’, this practice encourages children to understand that when they feel full, they don’t need to eat anymore.  This helps them feel comfortable about eating food.

As parents, we shape our children’s future from the early days right the way through to adulthood.  Just because we may not have a positive body image about ourselves, we shouldn’t be inflicting that onto our children.  By following the above tips, children will grow up to be confident about how they look, and lead happier, healthier lives in the process.

Sports for Schools is a social enterprise that works with top athletes from around the UK and Ireland visiting primary schools to inspire and encourage kids of all abilities, and teachers, to be more active. Our mission is to Activate, Educate, Motivate and Innovate schools and parents through a series of events and workshops.  If you’d like your school or parents to get active, get in touch with us and see how we could help you inspire our next generation.

It is Ability, Not Disability That Counts

It is Ability, Not Disability That Counts: What Can We Learn from Paralympians About Overcoming Struggles?

The Paralympics 2020 kicked off in Japan last week (a year later than originally planned) and GB have already had success as Dame Sarah Storey, who was born without a functioning left hand, won our first gold in cycling, taking her overall gold medal tally to fifteen and making her the most successful female British Paralympian in history.

Having overcome bullying and an eating disorder, Sarah started her Paralympian career in the pool at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics before switching to cycling in 2005.  On her way to her latest gold she broke her own world record too.

 

Overcoming personal and physical struggles

Sarah Storey is a Paralympian that has not only overcome personal struggles but has also overcome physical struggles and has always believed that her disability does not detract from her ability to succeed. There is one phrase, a motto, said by Dr Ludwig Guttman that Paralympians worldwide constantly demonstrate – “It is ability, not disability that counts.

Every Paralympian will tell you that they have overcome struggles to be the best they can be – Mike Kenny, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Lee Pearson, Dave Roberts, Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds, Hannah Cockroft, Richard Whitehead, David Weir and Sophie Christiansen, to name but a few.

Whether you were born with your disability or a tragic event that was sudden, unexpected or developed over time has been life-changing, Paralympians have had to overcome their personal struggles as well as the physical struggles that their disability entails.  Every type of disability presents a set of challenges that have to be mastered and managed.

How many times have we sat and watched Paralympians running, cycling, shooting, playing basketball in wheelchairs or any other sport and wondered what we would have done if we had the same disability?  I’ll let you decide, but in the meantime, let’s talk about what we can learn from Paralympians.

Ask any Paralympian – in fact, any athlete – what our young generation need to develop and these five traits will be on the list:

  • Resilience;
  • Perseverance:
  • Commitment;
  • Mindset;
  • Inner drive to succeed.

 

Resilience

Firstly, not everyone has a high level of resilience.  Secondly, nobody is born with resilience.  The Performance Room defines it as a mindset from which you can learn the skill of resilience.

Giving young people an opportunity to develop resilience, to learn to be tough, is giving them the ability to accept setbacks to find a way to adapt and overcome them. The challenge for teachers and parents alike, is that developing resilience means testing yourself, which can be as uncomfortable for the youngster as for the parent alike!

 

Perseverance

Never give up; when you fall down, get back up; if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again; that’s perseverance.  Disability or not, every athlete will tell you that they have failed more often than they have succeeded.  The learning comes from accepting that you will fail at times but persevering, getting up and trying again, is the willingness to meet and overcome the setbacks.  Paralympians aren’t just dealing with a disability; they often have to persevere through excruciating pain and discomfort, not to mention injuries.

Is it time to stop saying that it’s OK to give up trying?  How many times have we seen youngsters with ability and a disability shrug their shoulders in defeat before they’ve even tried because no-one has encouraged them to give it a go?

 

Commitment

Every athlete will tell you about the hours and hours of training they go through daily in their quest to achieve their very best.  Talent and ability alone is not enough; it has to be developed and nurtured to be the best they can be.  Yes, many Paralympians rely on the support of family, friends, coaches and their support network to help them, but every single one of them set out to do as much as they can for themselves.

 

Mindset

For Paralympians that have often been told they can’t do what other people do, and don’t even think about taking up sport, their mindset is crucial in doing it anyway.  Paralympian David Blair, born with a club foot, said: “It doesn’t even cross our minds that we maybe shouldn’t be doing this, because of a deformity, or because of any type of handicap that we might have.  It doesn’t necessarily occur to us to do it any other way than to adapt to what we have and go forward.”

Yes, athletes face setbacks, particularly disabled athletes, but accepting what someone else says instead of challenging the adversity takes away the belief that there is so much more they can achieve.  We shouldn’t allow other people’s mindset to dictate our own.

 

Inner drive to succeed

No-one said it was going to be easy; success isn’t easy.  If we continue to ‘dumb down’ what defines success to the point that no-one feels like they have failed or are left out, how can we teach the younger generation to be resilient and committed?  How will they learn to persevere, to get up and try again?  How can we help them develop a mindset that will encourage them to overcome the setbacks and achieve no matter the challenges they will face?

There are many kids that have an inner drive to succeed in spite of their disability and they have the ability to be successful.  Sport has undeniable benefits; it empowers people with disabilities, builds self-confidence, increases fitness and physical ability, improves mood and social awareness.  It has the power to motivate and inspire people to achieve so much more than they thought possible.

As well as resilience, perseverance, commitment and mindset, there’s one other factor that Paralympians can teach our younger generation – if you want it badly enough, if you work hard enough, if you develop a positive mindset, you can succeed.

Sports for Schools is a social enterprise that works with top athletes from around the UK and Ireland, visiting primary schools to inspire and encourage kids of all abilities, and teachers, to be more active. Our mission is to Activate, Educate, Motivate and Innovate schools and parents through a series of events and workshops.  If you’d like your school or parents to get active, get in touch with us and see how we could help you inspire our next generation.

 

Unblind the Mind – Paralympian Darren Harris’ one of a kind podcast

I was excited and honoured to join Darren Harris; Author, Speaker, Coach and most capped England blind footballer, on his inaugural podcast ‘Unblind The Mind’.

Darren’s Podcast is aimed at people who want courage, inspiration and determination to tackle life’s biggest challenges – something Darren possesses in spades.

In first episode we explored exercise and activity with an emphasis on how both are important in particular for children and the younger generation. The conversation covered what motivates us both to make the changes we need to improve children’s wellbeing and quality of life – and frankly life chances.

Physical activity is foundational to a functioning brain. We like to quote Professor John Ratey at Harvard University who says, “Physical activity builds the brain, so teachers can fill the brain”. A variety of physical activities for children is the most powerful route to helping them achieve their potential and learning ability.

The first episode covers an array of vital topics such as:

  • the dangers of inactivity,
  • the importance of fair competition and confidence,
  • the consequences of lockdown,
  • how inactive parents can help themselves and their children, looking at some fascinating studies about physical health and its effect on how our brains work,
  • How active learning can provide serious support to learning (ask Jon Smedley at TeachActive for more on that!).

It’s hard not to have this type of conversation without talking about some really shocking stats – for example, did you know that inactivity kills more people than smoking does in this country? This is one of the many reasons why physical activities sports need to be promoted more in schools to children, and why we as parents and adults should be more honest with ourselves and recognise our norms have changed. All physical activities are beneficial, from dance to martial arts to netball and basketball.

50% of fathers of obese children will think their child is an ‘alright size’ with 33% of mothers reporting the same. Giving our children the opportunity to go out and experience things themselves is vital to our development of understanding the effect of exercise and learning.

Darren’s podcast series will be delivering life-changing insights from his interviewees. Many of his guests will be people who are dedicating their lives to keeping active and explaining the benefits for parents and young people alike. Each episode is 30 minutes long so it won’t distract you from your day-to-day work.

 

Michael Ledzion, Chief Sportivater

Feel like a frog in boiling water when it comes to work stress?!

If you like podcasts and are a busy bee most of the time, I’ve got a great suggestion for you! You are Not a Frog with Dr Rachel Morris is a podcast catered towards high-stress workers who often feel like a frog in boiling water. It covers a variety of content that everyone can recognise and use to improve the way you work and live your life and is brought to you by Dr Rachel Morris. Rachel is a GP, executive coach and specialist in resilience at work. She works with doctors and other organisations all over the country to help professionals beat stress and take back control of their work.

If you’re interested in the link between physical activity and cognitive performance or how to find the most valuable exercise routines (backed by science), then Rachel’s 57th podcast is the perfect pick for you.

In episode 57 I joined Rachel as her guest to discuss how staying active improves brain function in all aspects of life. The impact of covid restrictions has undoubtedly affected this but it was a growing issue in children for many years prior. Which is why it’s so vital to bring excitement and joy back into school life and exercise.

Here are just a few points we covered:

  • Ways to help children enjoy exercise, rather than seeing it as a chore
  • Active exercise and its effect on productivity
  • Exercise and creativity
  • Why we’ve lost the ability to see the importance of physical activity
  • Advice for people who work long hours

Rachel was a GP for almost two decades and is always “on it” with the facts. I’m expecting this episode to be particularly relevant for teachers, parents and anyone with a busy schedule. It talks  to everyone who cares about the development of young people and the challenges we are all facing in our constantly changing society.

You can check this podcast out on Rachel’s website or on any podcast streaming platform such as Spotify, Anchor FM, Google podcasts, pocket cast and many more.

 

Michael Ledzion, Chief Sportivater