Are girls active enough?

I’m just listening to a debate on Radio 5 Live about young girls dropping out of sport at an early age. This is a topic very close to my heart because it is what has driven me to study sport and health in depth. Not women and sport particularly but the health advantages of being active. That is my fascination so barriers to being active are what I want to break down.

I wrote my A level main coursework for sociology on this topic of girls and sport. The reasons I uncovered are precisely what I am hearing in this radio programme. It’s a shame that the problem is still so severe. What I am being reminded about is just how complex the concept of sport is and how little support there actually is for it in school. My memory is that PE teachers never got the respect and support of other teachers in traditional disciplines like english, maths and science. It was basically at the bottom of the educational hierarchy and the results we get reflect that. Even during my degree in sports science I got the impression that my degree wasn’t considered as difficult as others and we as students weren’t expected to work as hard or particularly with as much quality as others like the engineers that dominate Loughborough.

Sport is not one homogenous entity which is I think one of the main reasons no one can agree in what they actually want children to learn and be good at. If you can’t pin that down that you won’t get any where. So what I have been most interested in is a way to switch sport from being on the periphery of our culture and thus our schools, being perceived as a luxury and entertainment field to a situation where it is seen as a core way to “paying the bills”.

The British medal winning boxer Nicola Adams and gymnast Louis Smith epitomise my view. Sport gave them opportunities for success that formal education didn’t. Both have tremendous energy that their parents and school struggled to channel. The kind of kids that were most likely to cause trouble in the classroom, not excel in it. What sport gave them is a purpose and community that fit them. They went from being controlled by their passion to their parents despair to learn their energy is normal and is a wonderful strength in sport. Schools and teachers need you to sit down, lesson and write in order to learn but it isn’t actually the most natural form of learning. You don’t exactly see a polar bear sitting her cubs down, bringing out a blackboard and explaining how to hunt. Of course not. Cubs learnt to hunt and feed themselves through play, watching their mother and following along in hunts. This is the same across the mammal world and how it used to be for humans. That’s exactly how sports work. The best always think more than the rest. Experience counts.

The biggest loss I feel education makes is in understanding just what intellectual improvement is made through sport. Particularly how the best in sport really do think better than the others. The fact is that they always make better decisions than their opponents. It seems counter intuitive but basically how they train, who they train with, how they ensure they are at their best on the right days in a calendar year is all about decisions and reflecting on their experience and resources. Thinking of it this way you can see they learn the basics of project management, developing social relationships, working in teams. All sorts of skills that are key to a cv.

It is never recognised that a passion for sport can help people compete in the work place. One way is through the community you get through following a sport. don’t forget it’s not always what you know but who you know. Pick a career, doctor, lawyer, teacher for example. These are all very competitive careers. what are the chances that you could get an advantage over others in your professions because you knew people through your hobby that need your skills. It’s actually the way most people get ahead. It just happens that through playing sport you know a wide variety of people. Sport isn’t your career but it gains you a big advantage and makes you unique in the market place. Some one who is sought after. That is the kind of thinking I want to promote. Something where sport and activity adds to the curriculum and education. Not something that only takes.

On the flip side I don’t think sport really gets it either. Generally people in sport only really know about life with sport. Essentially sport is a very young industry learning to stand on its own feet. It just isn’t yet able to compete with the well established subjects.

So why am I ranting on this blog instead of my competitive urge blog? Because moving is what I care about most. It gets swept up in the pe and sport bandwagon and so many get put off for this reason. The culture is not about getting as many people moving as possible and then giving an opportunity to be competitive (sport). instead it depends on the quality of the individual teachers and their ability to take a tiny amount of time and maximise its benefits to the students they teach. Hardly a recipe for success is it.

What I learnt in a PE degree and in sociology when we studied education is that the learning week is incredibly pressured. Every hour is closely monitored and fought for by many subjects. So PE has to compete. What makes more sense to me is to provide more support outside school. There just isn’t enough inside school and to be honest it’s just not the only or best place to define a childs interest in and experience of sport and activity. The wider culture needs to really start to understand that movement is as important to a humans health as eating and sleeping. We are hunters and gatherers. It’s in the description of our species. We’ve just learnt how to hunt and gather from our sofas and look down on those who move. We don’t see the point any more. If we emphasise active play, dancing, running and the like we can make activity relevant and important to all.

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