Last Thursday, after thirteen years since my last visit to Telford, I went to the Youth Sport
Trust conference. The focus for the conference was mental health and lots of reflections on the positive
impact PE, sport and physical activity can have on it. It was a fantastic conference, with so
many take aways and I’ll definitely be back next year.

Read my reflections on the day below:

Seeing Old Friends

By old, I don’t mean old old (although we all have rather more greys than in 2010), rather
people I haven’t seen for a very long time. In 2010 at the YST conference and in each year
leading up to that point, the event represented a fantastic celebration of the work done by
School Sports Partnerships (SSP) across the UK.

For those unfamiliar with the landscape at that time, every local authority across the
country had an SSP. The government had a strategy focused around the 5 hour offer, 2
hours within curriculum and then extended activities through sports clubs, competitions and
other out of hours activities. The network of PE professionals worked towards this and a
whole range of other objectives linked to that target. Personally I joined the Lambeth SSP in
2008 and it was probably the most enjoyable period of my professional career. It was great
for many reasons but what I felt the greatest sense of pride from, was working with
inspiring people, towards a shared ambition, driven by great leadership.

Roll on 13 years and the landscape is far more fragmented. There continues to be shared
purpose; getting more children, more active, more often would be the obvious one BUT
there is no clear strategy in place to unify the many different people working in this space.
Being in Telford last week, I got to spend some time catching up with people who were part
of that SSP journey; Nick Miller, Nicky Affleck, Paul Williams, Kim Longdon, Chris Caws and
others. Really great to see them all, catch up and reminisce.

Dr Alex George

You’ll possibly remember the name from Love Island fame, if you’re that way inclined!! My
wife forced me to watch…
Now Alex is Youth Health Ambassador for the government and a GP. He is someone who has
had issues with mental health and tragically lost his brother through suicide in recent times.
There was lots that he spoke about but here were some of the main points I wanted to
share:

  • 1/3 of people come to A&E due to a mental health issue
  • 1/4 of the population struggle with mental health
  • 1/2 children are bullied at some point in their school life
  • Teenagers spend on average 2-4 hours on social media each day

So much to unpick here but shows the great level of mental health issues faced across our
society.

He also discussed the physiological impact of stress on gut health. Gut health is now seen as
central to nutritional and personal wellness, Alex reflected that stress can effect the levels
of serotonin generated, which subsequently impacts your gut health.

Finally, he discussed approaches to supporting others with these tips:
1. Trust your gut/instinct
2. Ask twice

Within families he also discussed a RAG (Red, Amber, Green) analysis of your week and
introducing a mental health first aider within our working environments.

Canadian 24 Hour Movement Model

This workshop was fascinating, lead by Robert Ross and Dr Zach Watson, academics from
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. Here is a link to the website, with so much
interesting content to explore. The premise for the study is to improve the overall messaging around the impact that the whole day can have on cognitive, mental and physical health.

In the UK the guideline is 60 minutes moderate-vigorous physical activity each day, which is
a very isolated amount comparatively to reflecting on the whole day.
The messaging focused on “Making the whole day matter” and the study assesses the
impact of different aspects of life; movement, sedentary time and sleep, on the health
outcomes stated above. Essentially moving more, reducing sedentary time and sleeping well
is a positive mix but the study also explores optimisation models for different ages and
genders.

What CSEP have started doing is using the findings to create an assessment tool for
individuals, so that care providers can create a plan that successfully evaluates their needs
and seeks positive outcomes.
See the steps: Ask – Assess – Advise – Plan – Counsel – Arrange
I think there is huge merit to this more comprehensive approach, which looks at far more
than just 60 minutes of activity as a measure. Hopefully it might be something we start to
see implemented in the UK.

Alex Smith and The Cares Family

I joined a fascinating discussion midway through the conference, it was hosted by Will
Roberts and amongst others involved Alex Smith and Dr William Bird.
I’ve had the pleasure of listening to both of them speak at a UK Active conference and they
provided more great insights and reflections last week.
Alex is the Founder/CEO of The Cares Family (Website)
who have this mission:
“The Cares Family brings people together across generations, backgrounds and experiences to
build community and connection.”

“Our vision is of socially connected communities in which people feel less lonely, more united
and that they belong.”

Loneliness and lack of belonging have a huge impact on physical and mental health. One of
their recommendations is engaging in 5 meaningful connections each day. In our digital age,
with more people working from home and less face to face contact across society, the
number of connections has diminished drastically through time and not without impact. As I
write this today, I sit at my desk, unlikely to have those 5 meaningful connections as a result.
During this discussion about connection, Emily Reynolds from YST, spoke brilliantly on how
the degradation of play outside of the home, has reduced the amount of interactions
between different age ranges. Personally as a child, friends and I would go off to parks and
green spaces within a reasonably large area. When we did play out we’d often find other
people to play with. Children now stay very close to home and that level of exploration and
discovery has changed.

It was interesting to reflect on how age-focused everything is now and the reduced number
of opportunities for children of different ages to play with each other. The importance of
play is another interesting element to reflect on, as life has so much more structure to it,
comparatively to when I was a child.

Arshay Cooper

The afternoon keynote was Arshay Cooper (LinkedIn)

He shared his very inspiring story of getting into Rowing after a challenging upbringing on
the West side of Chicago. His journey has been made into a documentary series and some
very powerful messages around embracing difference framed through the experience of
former gang members, forming bonds with Police and Fire department personnel through
rowing.

He said many incredible and inspiring things but this line stayed with me and I wanted to
share
“When we give what hurts, we get the results we want to see.”

Happiness Factories

My final workshop was hosted by Phil Mathe (Twitter) a PE teacher based in
UAE, who’s written the book Happiness Factories.
His talk was framed around asking the audience the following questions:
1. Does it matter how/what PE is taught?
2. Does it matter if they are happy, as long as they are learning?
3. Is performance more important that personality?
4. What’s wrong with the way we’ve always done it?

Some great discussion on these questions, with Phil drawing the conclusion that happiness
and a sense of belonging (as Alex Smith above would testify), leads to great engagement
and long term impact.

Please follow up by looking at some of the links and following some of the individuals
referenced.

Hope you enjoyed the blog.
– Rob

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