Children’s Commissioner
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Moving more to improve mental health: Mental Health Awareness Week and The Big Ambition for Sport roundtable

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, organised by the Mental Health Foundation. The theme this year is about getting everyone moving more to improve their mental health. The Children’s Commissioner and her Youth Ambassadors recently hosted a roundtable with the Youth Sport Trust and shared the importance of physical activity to support children’s mental health.

Children and young people speak about physical and mental health in relation to each other – the two things go hand in hand. This is a younger generation that is uniquely health conscious.

In my recent survey, The Big Ambition, which asked young people what the next Government could do to improve their lives, children told me:

“I think that the government should improve the school curriculum. Not enough children have the motivation, space or resources to do sport outside of school and it shows in both young people’s mental and physical health. I think that there should be more time for PE lessons in schools and more learning on life skills […]” – Girl, 13.

“They should refurbish parks with sports pitches and exercise equipment so people that don’t have a garden to exercise have a place to play sports, enjoy themselves and keep fit and healthy” – Boy, 10.

“The government should put more parks around different places so people can have the same amount as fun I have.” – Girl, 11

“The government needs to prioritise spending money on … things for children to do when they are not in school. Youth clubs and sports clubs and swimming that are not too expensive.” – Boy, 11. 

As part of The Big Ambition, I co-hosted a roundtable with some of my Youth Ambassadors, Mehul, Poppy and Sofia, and members of the Youth Sport Trust Youth Board, Abbie, Abhishna, Greg, Joel, and Saif. It brought together experts and leaders from across the youth sport sector to ask the question “how could the next government make children’s lives better through sport and active play?” 

Themes that arose in the roundtable emphasised how critical sport can be in supporting children to learn how to look after their physical and mental health. Sport can build confidence, self-belief, create new friendships, increase their motivation, resilience and leadership skills, offer a safe space to go and provides children with an opportunity to integrate with their communities and learn from being part of more diverse groups.

It was clear during the discussions how transformative sport can be on a ’child’s life. One of the Youth Board, Saif, spoke of his experience as an asylum seeker in Wigan and how he found a sense of belonging and purpose through the Wigan Youth Zone. Through sport, he found a platform to make connections, develop as a leader and become a role model to other young people, inspiring them to follow in his footsteps.

An integral part of the discussion was around solutions to some of the issues surrounding sport for young people – in particular how we can make sport accessible for every child. The discussion covered the importance of role models and mentors in sport, the professional role of the youth worker – including training and expanding who fits within these roles – and the financial implications of being involved in sport and funding to increase children’s access.  

My young Ambassador, Sofia, shares her own experience:

She yesterday said:

“I had an incredible opportunity to attend the Youth Sport Trust roundtable with Dame Rachel de Souza and other Ambassadors, where we met the Olympic champion Dame Denise Lewis. We were so impressed and motivated by her speech that we realised once again how important sport is in the life of every person, not only as a physical activity, but also as an area of education and resilience.

“I believe that sport is a very important component of children’s physical and mental health. Sport is a discipline that brings up strong-minded children who are able to withstand any mental difficulties in the future. I was lucky to have sport in my life and now I realise how much it influenced me to become a strong and resilient person, not only to physical exertion but also to stress, uncertainty and failures that I overcame again and again. I believe that regular sports at school or in some kind of sports clubs will help to bring up a strong-minded nation, which is very important for our common happy and stable future.”

As part of The Big Ambition for Youth Work I have set out five overarching outcomes that I want for every child, namely that they are safe, healthy, happy, learning and engaged in their community.

To achieve this, I am sharing my recommendations with government, policymakers and charities, including three ambitions for sport and active play:

  1. Every child has access to play and fun things to do
  2. Every child has access to high-quality youth services in their local area
  3. Every child is supported by youth services that work together, to prevent issues escalating

To achieve these ambitions, children’s access to positive activities outside of school, including sport, needs to be expanded and there needs to be a greater focus on taking part in sport and PE in school .

In addition, I have published The Big Ambition for Health which shares the need for better mental health support and services for children and young people. My team also created flyers for primary and secondary school students to support talking about mental health and places to find support.

Read more about The Big Ambition for Sport Roundtable from the Youth Sport Trust here:


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