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The importance of sport and physical activity for wellbeing in schools

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

There’s certainly been a shift recently on the emphasis and impact that sport and physical activity can have on wellbeing in schools. Prior to the pandemic, PE and Games were mostly seen as one dimensional opportunities. It was a time for the physically talented to shine, as well as a chance to develop sport specific skills and components of fitness. Now, many practitioners see it as a chance to educate and promote positive mental health and wellbeing in schools, in addition to the more obvious physical benefits.

I’ve been working as a Head of Department for nearly 9 years now. Over that time, my job title has evolved from ‘Head of PE’ and ‘Director of Sport’, to ‘Director of Sport, PE & Wellness’. The current title more accurately reflects the direction of sport and physical activity in schools, as witnessed by many PE leaders. The positive impact of moving your body are undeniable and multi-faceted.

I continue to promote sport and competition through a comprehensive games programme. Teamwork, camaraderie, cooperation, socialisation and specific skill acquisition drive the model of this programme. But within PE, we’ve gone off piste. We now focus on movement competency, physical literacy and mental wellbeing. By tracking these areas closely and consistently, we can monitor and prove the close link between physical activity and mental health, adding value to overall wellbeing in schools.

You can imagine that not all students bought into this initially! They were used to six weeks of Basketball or Badminton… and now they were being asked to think more deeply about how moving their bodies made them feel emotionally, physically and mentally.

We are also now using the physical to promote the academic. In the recent podcast, I mentioned ‘Spark’, a book by John Ratey. ‘Spark’ details thousands of students struggling with Maths and Science, who then see that their results dramatically improve when they adopt fitness as a lifestyle, rather than fitness as sports.

How successful can this new PE crusade possibly be in promoting wellbeing in schools?

Currently, the majority of wellbeing education is taught through various PSHE programmes. At Life on Time and youHQ, we are strong advocates for quality PSHE teaching often delivered by form tutors. In addition to this belief, we acknowledge that PE teachers are so well placed to deliver programmes for mental health through their knowledge of the human body, its adaptations, and its responses to physical activity.

One example is the endorphin effect. We are ten weeks into lockdown and I defy anyone who doesn’t feel better after building some form of movement into their daily routine. Much of the discussion held now on webinars is about the opportunity to change what we deliver through core PE in order to fully develop the individual student.

4 tips for any school or PE department to link practical lessons with promotion of wellbeing in schools:

  1. Scale pupils’ emotional status and monitor – ask students how they’re feeling out of 10 at the beginning and end of each lesson and track this over time.

  2. Give students time to discuss their wellbeing in lessons (perhaps as part of a plenary).

  3. Create positive reinforcement groups – Pick students to praise others within the group for work that they have completed. This positive reinforcement can work wonders for how students feel.

  4. Don’t be afraid to go deeper in student wellbeing. Spend a full lesson on overall health as a one off.

For more information, please listen to our latest Be Inspired podcast, where we discuss more about the importance of physical activity and its effect on wellbeing in schools.

youHQ has been specifically created to help wellbeing in schools. It can help you monitor physical activity and the mood of your students. If you would like to book a free demo or free six-week trial for your school, please contact us.

Written by Jeremy Belas

Edited by Jon Ford

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