Sport: Health and Well-being of Children and Young People — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:14 pm on 9th December 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Grey-Thompson Baroness Grey-Thompson Crossbench 12:14 pm, 9th December 2010

My Lords, I declare an interest as I am involved in many areas of sport in the UK: Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Sports Leaders UK, UK Athletics, LOCOG and International Inspiration. I have previously sat on the Sports Council for Wales, Sport England and UK Sport, and have also worked as a development officer in the late 1990s.

There are many ways in which we can engage young people, whether it be through participating in sport, sports leadership, coaching or officiating. However, it is also important to remember that this should be done both inside and outside school. It is easy to equate sporting opportunity for young people with schools as this is where their friends are, the facilities and the trained people to deliver. School also provides a pragmatic way of focusing resources to have a real impact, but we should not forget parents, governing bodies and non-sporting organisations such as youth groups which can help play their part. Part of the difficulty is that we may all have different ideas of what sport means. Many may not have had a great experience of school sport. Who can remember undertaking cross-country runs in gym knickers or being picked last for the school team? However, this should not affect what is happening now. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our next generation of young people, and ourselves, are fit, healthy and happy. I readily accept that competitive sport is not for all. The size of the Paralympics GB team is around 300. Even if we consider the talent pyramid beneath that, hundreds of thousands of children are outside that and need our support.

There are three areas that we need to look at to encourage young people to reach their potential: participation, whether that is in the form of playing, dancing and enjoying the outdoors and the joys and benefits that being active can bring; experiencing competition and endeavouring to win, but with a sense of balance; or competitive sport and striving to be selected for the team. This is where high-profile events such as the Olympics and Paralympics can inspire people. However, we also have to recognise that the issues are complicated; there is not one solution. Whether you are a boy or a girl, where you live, whether you are disabled and parental income all have an impact on what you can do. Where are we now? We know that female drop-off in sport starts earlier than male drop-off and is more dramatic. By 16, girls are half as likely as boys to meet recommended levels of exercise. Girls think that sports traditionally played by boys, such as rugby and football, are seen by society to be more important than sports played by girls. The Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation has reported that 80 per cent of women do not do enough exercise beyond school to be considered healthy.

From recent data from the Department for Education's PE and Sport Survey 2009-10, we know that those children in rural areas are more likely to participate in at least three hours of PE and school sport than those in urban areas. The highest performing schools tend to have fewer pupils who are eligible for free school meals, although this is changing rapidly. In the lowest performing schools there is a higher proportion of pupils with special educational needs. What are the risks of not getting this right? We need only look to the USA-I recognise that the numbers are different, but possibly not the percentages-to see what we can expect in the future unless we radically change what we do.

The following data are from the Get Set survey. Up to September 2009, $2 billion had been eliminated from after-school sports programmes. A study of Los Angeles county showed that school communities with more extra-curricular sport activities had drastically lower crime rates than those with fewer programmes. The ratio was 1:18. The cost of losing one child to a life of crime is estimated to be between $1.4 million and $1.7 million. Some 9 million young adults are too overweight to join the military, according to an April 2010 report from retired officers, Mission Readiness. That represents 27 per cent of all Americans aged 17 to 24. The US military spends $60 million annually on recruiting and training replacements for first-term enlistees discharged due to weight problems. One in three young Americans are overweight, obese, or at risk of becoming so, and the obesity epidemic costs $147 billion annually in extra healthcare. In the UK, obesity costs the NHS £8.2 billion a year, and that figure could rise to £46 billion in 2050.

Evidence suggests that spending money now on sports helps to save money later. For example, the cost-benefit analysis of typical after-school programmes for at-risk children shows that each dollar invested returns between $8.92 and $12.90, which is 1,000 per cent return on average.

Participation in sports can also be correlated with positive lifelong indicators of health and of academic and social success. However, I am done with the gloom-on the positive side, there are significant data from the UK to show that young people who participate in sport are more confident, better able to learn, more physically developed and build friendships. I do not believe it is a coincidence that the specialist sports colleges have been show to be the fastest improving, if you judge by academic measures such as GCSE pass rates.

For a few examples: in the school sport partnership where I live in the north-east of England, they offer basketball, cricket, dance programmes, street Latin, early morning pilates, fencing, cycling proficiency, quicksticks-a version of hockey-artistic gymnastics, yoga, judo and Thai boxing. The list could go on and on. It is a far cry from hockey in winter and athletics in summer. For many, it is the first club they belong to, and so much better than a gang.

Sports Leaders UK expect to train 180,000 sports leaders in 2010/11, who will be trained in schools, FE colleges, higher education institutions and youth and community settings. In the next three years, this will lead to over a million hours of volunteer-led sports activity. Just a few miles from here in Newham, Fight for Peace is an international non-profit organisation that started in the favelas of Rio and then came to London, which provides real alternatives for children and youth in disadvantaged communities, dealing with crime, drug dealing and organised armed violence by using sport and education. I could list so many more organisations that change young people's lives by using sport.

What do we need for the future? In my time, I have sat through many Sports Council reorganisations, various changes in policies and land-grabbing, and I ask that we do not throw out all the good work that has been done to see what still needs to be done. In sport, there is bureaucracy and political culture which needs to be worked on. I believe we need still to work more with primary school PE teachers, many of whom are not trained as PE or sports specialists, who need assistance in running physical activity sessions. We need to keep working with secondary school teachers, and also engage in more sports leadership. We also know that there is a gap in provision for disabled children.

However, we also need to think more widely. Some projects I have seen internationally engage with the mums, teaching them how to play so that they then encourage their daughters and allow them to carry on participating. We in sport need to be much better at putting the case for why sport is important, because it does make a difference, and the figures are there. This is challenging and there are no easy fixes, but improvements will not happen on their own. There is a need to provide a sustainable physical education structure in schools, and support ideas of what to do outside that will benefit children, parents and society. Surely this should be part of our Olympic and Paralympic legacy. Our children deserve it.