Can we get back to young people having a sense of fun and enjoyment?

by Chris Wright, Head of Health and Wellbeing, Youth Sport Trust

Can we get back to young people having a sense of fun and enjoyment?As an adult working in the health and education sector, we have a problem with making things too complicated. This week, with such a focus on how we address the declining mental health of young people, is a case in point. The solution often seems complicated and at times unattainable for schools, parents and young people.

What I believe is that we need to simplify the message! Can we get back to young people having a sense of fun and enjoyment? Can we get to the point where all young people walk out of school with a smile on their face and a greater sense of wellbeing? 

Throughout my work at the Youth Sport Trust, I often hear from teachers that the emotional and physical health of young people is declining and is a huge issue in schools. I also hear that it is a complicated issue and requires huge resource and competence to deal with. We should in no way trivialise the issue but I do believe there are simple steps we can take.

I then watched the BBC programme ‘Heads Together’ which charted the journey of 10 people with a mental illness who came together to try and run the London Marathon. This reaffirmed what I have been feeling this last few days. What I saw watching that programme was a group of people who were in need of intervention and support but went right back to starting with having fun and enjoyment.

I am not denying that they needed specialist support but they came together to have fun and be active together...the running was a catalyst for feeling better about themselves and being part of something, and was part of the solution.

At the Youth Sport Trust, we believe the role of PE, school sport and physical activity is critical to this. Extensive research both from our own charity and partners has proven beyond all doubt that physical activity can be one of the most important outlets for children’s psychological development and at a really basic level; having fun and a greater sense of wellbeing.

If we can get children moving more at a younger age then we will build the foundations of having happier, more resilient and engaged learners in our schools. 

The Healthy Movers programme for early years demonstrates that the role of physical activity goes far beyond just helping children’s physical development. It supports the foundations in psycho-social wellbeing and develops a sense of fun and enjoyment at a crucial time. If we don’t achieve this at an early age then the decline in physical and emotional wellbeing is going to strike earlier and earlier into children’s lives and we are already seeing declines in physical activity and wellbeing at the age of 7.

It is therefore clear that we must use the PE, school sport and physical activity environment as an outlet. We must use it as an outlet for letting off steam, having fun and social interaction, developing those softer skills and outcomes associated with being a child. If we do then we can guarantee the increase in young people’s capacity and ability to learn and improved emotional wellbeing will follow.

So let’s take every opportunity we can to encourage young people to be more active. In doing so we will re-engender that sense of fun and enjoyment we can all relate to in our childhood...feeling good about yourself and having a positive outlook is fundamental to wellbeing.

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