A couple of years ago, Tim Hollingsworth, the CEO of Sport England - who are tasked with increasing sport uptake in England - said that children should be taught “physical literacy” as a matter of course, much like being taught to read and write.
Despite allocating £300m of funding to grassroots sport each year, this organisation found that only 17% of children and young people met government targets for physical activity, with boys (20%) more active than girls (14%). Research shows a strong drop-off for girls, particularly when they hit their teens.
Do you remember, just before the 2012 London Olympics, a whole swathe of arts funding was cut and redirected to sport with the promise that the money would lead to a lasting legacy that would challenge - and maybe even solve - the problem of inactivity in youth, and beyond? Sadly, it doesn’t seem to have happened.
Couple this with an escalating mental health crisis amongst adolescents, and it paints a pretty bleak picture of childhood wellbeing in the UK at the moment.
There is a lot of talk about developing ‘resilience’ in our young people, but teachers are already overwhelmed, and despite asking for more training in how to spot potential problems, this has not been forthcoming. It’s due, of course, to lack of funding, and I can’t see this increasing in any meaningful way in the near future.
The most frustrating thing is that YES, Mr Hollingsworth is right. We need to engender in our children a close relationship with their own physicality, not just through sport, but also through something that links physical health to mental health and emotional health. Something like dance, and drama, and yoga and Pilates, to work alongside sport in encouraging our children to feel a deeper connection with their bodies. And minds. The more exercise we do the more our bones produce a hormone that boosts mood, fertility and memory - staving off fraility, depression and dementia. Children also need to be encouraged to take (within reason) physical risks, to realise how strong and capable they actually are, to develop self-belief in a real and corporeal way, leading to self-dependence and inner strength.
Don’t you think?
With every generation that feels alienated from their own physicality, the problem is passed on to those who come after. Let’s try and block the cycle - at least partially. Whether it’s a kick-about, a dance round the living room, a Sunday morning run or a game of charades, we have a responsibility to help our children, especially our girls, develop a love for the miracle that is their own human body and existence.
Have you ever had the thought cross your mind, “I wonder when it’s all going to go back to normal?” I found these very words floating through my consciousness unbidden the other day. Given the current state of affairs, I think it’s an excusable fantasy.
Because it is a fantasy, there never was any ‘normal’ for things to go back to, even if time reversal was a thing. (Time reversal is not a thing!)
One of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is when a crew member comes back from some R&R on a distant planet, and brings with them a game.
It’s a computer game that you play via a special pair of glasses, the aim being to use your concentration to deposit virtual spinning discs into randomly appearing cones. It soon becomes apparent that something else is going on, as more sets of the glasses are replicated and the entire crew becomes so obsessed they cease to function, becoming addicted to the endorphin release that the game triggers. Even Captain Picard succumbs - I know! Interestingly it is left to youth, in the shape of Wesley Crusher, to save the day.