19 March 2019
I’ve always been keen on sports and team sports in particular. During the winter, I played schoolboy football for Windsor Drive FC before switching to rugby which I played locally (Gordon League and Stroud) for approx. 20 years. During the summer months I played cricket for Arcadians, Huntley and Upton St Leonards.
Back then, I didn’t understand why people absolutely hated PE and sport. Personally I gained a lot from sport and it is embedded in my make-up. Sport has given me lifelong friendships and the ability to laugh at myself. It gave me opportunities to travel and taught me how to interact with a wide variety of people. Importantly it gave me the self-confidence to work in a wide variety of work roles. In recent years, my sport has transformed from regular, competitive team sports to that which focusses on activity and wellbeing. I hike/walk when I can and I run regularly – Parkrun and trail-running – but rather than on the roads, I run (and walk) in the fantastic countryside that surrounds us namely the woods, canal/river paths and the hills. For me, being surrounded by nature is therapeutic; it’s my chance for some peace and quiet, it’s time to think/plan and it clears my head from day-to-day stresses while doing me some good physically at the same time.
After 3½ years with YG, I’ve learned a lot about the reasons why some young people are put off sport. The competitive nature, the sports themselves that school PE offered, body image issues, peer influence, poor facilities and lack of opportunity because of location and cost are some genuine and relevant reasons but equally, for a lot of young people we work with, the combined challenges of eg unemployment, homelessness or relationship problems means that sport is forced well down their list of priorities.
However, it deeply concerns me that young people today are the unhappiest they’ve ever been, their mental-health is at alarmingly low levels and that obesity levels are so high. I am no doctor or scientist but I don’t see it as a co-incidence that, in some cases, there is a direct link between minimal time spent outdoors and/or low activity levels on depression and anxiety in particular. We work with young people who have a host of personal challenges but I’m sad to say that I’m convinced that a considerable number could improve their lives for the better if they had the opportunity to take part in sport/activity in an outdoor environment and by improving their diet if they had the necessary skills to do so.
This personal opinion is supported through the research carried out by the likes of Outward Bound Trust and Sport England who’s new strategy is based significantly around activity rather than sport. Since the release of this report, I have been looking at ways that YG can do more around this area. There is so much research now available about not only activity and diet but in the benefits of simply spending time outdoors and in nature, and GP’s are now even prescribing outdoor activity so at the end of 2018, we successfully piloted a scheme in partnership with Cotswold Conservation Board which took young people on the 12-week Team programme to areas of the Cotswolds. The pilot gave us great insight and a drive to do even more and so, as I write, we’re asking young people for their opinion on activities through a short online questionnaire via our Facebook page and paper copies available within the Link where in May, we will begin a regular wellbeing walk (details TBC) as part of Naturally Healthy Month.
The questionnaire asks what activity you currently do but also asks what you would like to try if you had the chance. Some responses we’ve had so far are horse-riding, hiking, rowing and quik-cricket. This is exactly what we want to hear from you but obviously any work we do needs funding; there is a cost to all activities such as this. But rest assured, the competitive and combative nature that sport, and rugby in particular, gave me is right here and I am determined to gain the funding needed to implement a programme that will improve the health and wellbeing of our young people here in Gloucestershire.