A big part of my role in developing Active Leaders is to speak with teachers, to understand how Active Leaders could fit within schools. Schools are judged on their academic results which means that time available to develop the other essential skills is squeezed. Programmes like Active Leaders must complement, not de-rail, academic standards, even though teachers know that physical activity is a fantastic means of easing tension and opening minds.
Last year, the Prince’s Trust found that young people feel “anxious and daunted”, citing everything from political upheaval to concerns about body image. The research found that young people feel that they have little control of their future.
Speaking as a parent, I know that my fears have stoked anxiety in my children – fretting about them getting good grades, getting into uni and just generally getting ‘ahead’ in life – having a plan, not wasting time.
Sadly, all this anxiety has long term effects. Employers speak to me about a generation that struggles with ‘soft skills’ (although I have spoken to people who view them as essential and ‘hard’). These skills centre around taking responsibility, leading and communicating, all things that are eroded by anxiety.
Anxiety is not easy to conquer, yet I believe it can be tamed. Anxiety UK recognise a clear link between physical activity and reducing anxiety, as do numerous scientific studies. The logic is simple: by looking after your body, you also look after your mind.
At Active Leaders, we have seen clear evidence of this across our courses. Young people transform in just five days, with their anxiety clearly reducing thanks to an uptake in activity, being active with other people, being part of a team, having a purpose.
Learning to lead activity makes young people more confident, it makes them realise what they can do and opens up pathways they did not know they could follow. It uses the power of sport but in a much broader way than being inspired by high performance. It helps teenagers realise that those who achieve at the top end can only do so with a massive support from those who inspire, motivate, plan, prepare. The same is true in business.
Seb Coe, who I knew when he was a competing athlete and later as a colleague, told me that he was able to succeed as a competitor and later in business because a phenomenal team surrounded him.
The Active Leader course concentrates on helping young people learn skills that employers expect so they have a better idea of how to present themselves, be more confident, more mature and not afraid to take on responsibility. This then makes it more attractive for them to be offered work experience, opening new doors.
If we are honest, we are all anxious about something. We expect young people to get stuck in and overcome challenges which we ourselves can choose not to undertake. Active Leaders facilitates confidence, opportunity and engagement. It gives the individuals who participate a sense of purpose and pride – something to talk about and a basis on which to build. In my opinion it has to be seen as a crucial part of how our education system is evaluated.
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