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Return to Sport – an Opportunity!

by Mark Nasey, Director of Sport at the Stamford Foundation schools

Return to Sport – an Opportunity!

Within education, Physicality has been a big casualty of the pandemic with short and long term implications for mental and physical health. Unless we act now and decisively we could feel these effects for a generation.

All schools and community providers of sport should be preparing for a return to physical activity as soon as safely possible. To do so, however, will take a more robust and collaborative approach from government and the related national governing bodies than that which we have received to date.

The youth of today have been locked in bedrooms, faced with the challenges of remote learning – for many a good part of six months – whilst others have also had further disruptions to their learning environments at school due to various restrictions. Grassroots sport has been either removed completely, or allowed to operate under tight restrictions, for the best part of a year.

In our house many a discussion has occurred around the excess screen time associated with trying to navigate online learning, social interaction, leisure and even physical activity. Central to this battle are schools and the roles they can play; both in facilitating the physical and human resources accessible to children within the structures of school programmes as well as building and strengthening relationships with local community sports clubs.

We know, and research confirms, that active children are better prepared to learn, perform better academically, are happier, and have stronger connections to schools. Long-term, activity positively impacts every part of their physical, emotional, and social wellbeing.

Schools have the unique ability to deliver programmes of activity to entire national cohorts across the country. They are the only genuine engine which can communicate knowledge, skills, and values; influencing actions, interactions, and behaviours to a generation.

Within the school day there are countless opportunities in which sport and physical activity may be integrated, beyond that of the traditional PE Lesson. We should be reflecting upon examples where activities are successfully delivered before school, as lunchtime clubs, after school and during the weekends, and make this a focus upon our return.

Most, if not all, schools already have established positive relationships with community clubs and organizations through the shared use of facilities, out of school hours, and often where there is a crossover in staff delivering both programs. Ensuring that these clubs are provided with the same guidance as schools would ensure alignment, allowing for a faster return, and clarity for all those participants and providers in both institutions.

I’m of the opinion that sport in schools, including inter school sport, when delivered under the appropriate mitigative processes, is actually the safest form of activity for young people, due to the procedures already in place to maintain the schools’ safe operation. Schools are well versed in operating with year group bubbles, have appropriate track and trace procedures, suitable cleaning processes for facilities and equipment, and are practiced in the instruction of safe participation; all of which are integral to the school’s environment and safe operation.

The recommencing of sport, facilitated by schools and community clubs, is both possible and desirable, but to deliver them, schools need Government support, clear guidance, funding - for both schools and clubs, and promotion of local partnerships.

We need congruence from Government to ensure schools and national governing bodies are aligned so that we can remove the grey murky waters that existed previously. This should start with DfE and Department of Culture, Media & Sport communicating clearly and delivering timely and aligned guidance to schools and clubs, ensuring that our young people are afforded the very best opportunities in life.

We need the government to step up and deliver the guidance required to ensure that schools and community organisations can all play their part in enhancing our road to recovery; starting first and foremost with our young people.

Give us the tools and the freedom, and we can help to avert the major public health crisis that is already brewing due to the drop in physical activity during the pandemic. Our fear is that if we fail to act now, then we condemn a generation to carry a physical, mental and emotional burden that cannot be underestimated.