Do you remember the slogan for London 2012?
Inspire a generation.
Part of London hosting the Olympic games was that it should have a legacy, in terms of its transformation of the local area, but also in participation rates of sport. All those cyclists, swimmers, athletes and gymnasts were supposed to inspire us all to get off our backsides and get active. There was certainly a spike in cycling for a while, but that has tailed off.
Can England’s historic victory at Euro 2022 get that back on track?
A recent news report said that, while London 2012, was undoubtedly a wonderful thing, it failed in its aim to get Brits active and keep them active.
The most recent government figures show that 34% of men and 43% of women are ‘not active enough for good health’. That means they don’t do the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity (eg walking, gentle swimming or gentle cycling) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (eg running, fast swimming or football) recommended in a week. In addition, 21% of men and 25% of women are classed as physically inactive. That means they do less than 30 minutes of moderate activity a week.
As someone who is very active, I can’t get my head round that. A quarter of women don’t even manage one half-hour walk a week.
Of course, there are reasons for this – such as illness, disability and caring responsibilities. Sometimes people are just too busy to exercise. But a long day at work and rushing around in the car after the kids doesn’t count as physical activity, unless you actually do a physical job, such as gardening or construction.
Children and young people aged 5-18 should do 60 minutes of either moderate or intense physical activity a day, which includes something as simple as walking to school, as well as PE classes and sport outside school. In 2020-21, 44.6% of 5-16 year olds were meeting this target. So more than half of all children are not physically active enough.
What happened to Inspire a generation?
We’ve got another chance to inspire ourselves and our children now, with England’s historic victory in Euro 2022, as well as the Commonwealth Games, both held in England and both getting extensive TV coverage. How good is it to see women’s football on prime time TV on the BBC?!
Take the time to watch sport on TV with your kids. Talk about what they enjoy and what they would like to try. Opportunities exist everywhere and they don’t need to be expensive. Grassroots football, rugby and athletics are all coached by volunteers and are all cheap.
If girls are inspired to play football, you can look for a girls’ team. But many girls also start out playing football and rugby for boys’ teams. This works well for the youngest girls, who are just starting out at the same time as the boys, not trying to play catch-up at the age of 11. Girls can now actually play for boys’ teams right up to 18 (although they will often want to move at around the age of 14, when boys get physically bigger). This post by Lioness Beth Mead, who won both the Golden Boot and Player of the Tournament at the Euros, is an interesting insight into grassroots football for girls.
You can find a local grassroots football club – girls, boys, men, women, disability, older people etc – on the FA website.
(I couldn’t find out the age at which girls should stop playing for boys’ rugby teams, but it is certainly acceptable through primary school.)
But the very best way to inspire kids to get active is to have active role models – their parents. If you spend all your spare time watching boxsets, it’s likely your kids will too. But if they see you running, cycling, playing football, going to dance classes or going to the gym and if you take them on long walks at the weekend, they are far more likely to do these things themselves.
My parents weren’t active, but I usually had one or more sports on the go as a child. At the age of 20, I started running and I never looked back. My husband and I inspire each other to be active and we’ve inspired our kids too. (Well before we had kids, he said that he would ensure our future children did sport, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.) Because being active is the norm in our family.
In addition to the running, we go on at least a couple of walks a day. Generally only 30 minutes at a time – but we are doing more in that one walk than inactive adults are doing in a week. The kids will take themselves off for walks two or three times a day, either with us or without us.
Between years 8 and 11, my younger son was doing sport literally every day of his life – football, rugby and athletics. Since then, he’s learned the power of rest and recovery and that has become four or five days a week. He trains or competes in athletics three times a week and goes to the gym three or four days a week. Whether he is on a rest day or a training day, he walks.
My daughter still dances three times a week and trains in athletics whenever her dance classes allow it – usually once a twice a week.
My eldest is the least active of the kids, but he cycles to and from work every day and, rather than go walking as a leisure activity, he walks as a way of getting around. Two or three times a week, he will do a five-mile walk to walk his girlfriend’s house.
I have every faith that my kids will continue to be active well into adulthood and that they will inspire their own families to do the same. If you or your family aren’t as active as you would like, take those first steps. I know I’ve said it before, but parkrun is the most welcoming organisation and you definitely don’t have to run! Plenty of people walk and it spurs them on to do more and start to enjoy physical activity.
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s never too late to make a change – and to inspire the next generation.