Looking back at your school years, how many of your most treasured memories were made in the classroom, compared to those made charging around the playground, winning a sports match against that year’s greatest rivals, or building elaborate dens with your peers. And it’s not just memories made during these times, but positive behavioural patterns that are utilised throughout life’s many twists and turns.

There has always been debate around academics vs sport. Time spent on one, means time away from the other. But research shows that even a small amount of exercise a day can boost academic performance, especially in young people. One study carried out by the universities of Strathclyde and Dundee examined 5 000 children and found that for every extra 17 minutes boys exercised, and for every 12 minutes girls exercised, academic performance increased. Dr Josie Booth, one of the leaders of the study, from Dundee University said: “Physical activity is more than just important for your physical health. There are other benefits and that is something that should be especially important to parents, policy-makers and people involved in education.”

As a parent, and someone involved in education, it is especially important and lockdown was no exception. To support this, our remote learning programme had a shorter school day, so children had more time to get outside and be active. While they may not have been pitting themselves against their peers on the rugby field or netball court, we wanted pupils to stretch themselves and compete remotely, seeing which form group can walk, run or cycle the furthest in a month. Many also participated in the 100 Challenge, inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore, which saw a number of inspirational sporting goals being set and achieved. Our Deputy Head enthusiastically committed to 100 push ups a day for 100 days, and pupils proved that they were capable of more than they ever thought possible. Competing against their peers is one thing, but for many this experience has shown them that achieving a goal they set for themselves, without the cheers and clapping from the side-lines, can be equally rewarding.

For my four school age children, the twice weekly PE classes made all the difference to their remote learning experience. Live workout sessions and skills challenges such as keepy ups and catching and throwing based activities, successfully removed them from their screens for a period and got the blood pumping. One of our parent’s response to these intervals was: “I’m so happy to see him buoyant and motivated after each sports lesson. It’s all a parent wants to see. My only complaint is that I fear for my kitchen ceiling, which has to withstand his very energetic and not very light-footed star jumps!”

One of the words that I kept consistently at the heart of this experience was balance. How can we strike a balance between academics and the all-important moments in between, where children are able to practice what we at Vinehall call our five dispositions – be inquisitive, be collaborative, be resilient, be reflective and be courageous. None of these are possible without the disciplines and camaraderie of sport, whether performed on the playing field, gym, pool… or in the lounge with your dad’s old tennis racket and a hackey sack.

When the first lockdown eased and children started to return to school, it was important to relook at the structure of the day. Minimise time spent in the classroom and take the children outside. We therefore created small bubbles and utilised our grounds, setting outdoor learning activities designed to reintroduce pupils back into a social setting and back into the school environment. Adventure and sport were key to easing many young minds over that time, soothing anxieties and providing a safe, joyful space in which to learn and grow.

Ultimately, there are countless health benefits to sports education. Whether that means playing team sports, visiting the gym or the classic lockdown ‘walk around the block’. When we take care of our bodies, we take care of our minds, promoting positive patterns of behaviour, forging relationships, instilling discipline and making memories that will last a lifetime.

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