I have been consciously trying to get my children – and my daughter in particular – into sport at an early age. Not to be competitive – instilling that it should be fun first- but to create a lifestyle with sport as a part of it. The stats for school leavers stopping all sports – somewhere in the region of 70% – are staggering. For girls however the stats are even starker, and even from a younger age – only 37% of 7 year old girls get the recommended amount of exercise (compared to 63% of boys). Anecdotally, this is compounded when girls move on to secondary school. I am a fair bit older than both my sisters (10 and 12 years older respectively) and both were actively into team sports, both stereotypically “girls’ sports” like hockey and non-stereotypically like football. Both enjoyed playing and were good at their chosen sports. Their participation however curtailed when they began secondary school. A recent government paper (I say recent, it was published in 2014) seemed to identify 2 main areas that cause the decline in girls taking up sports in school. The first focuses on the school environment – the lack of choices and over competitive nature of the school programme. The second area has far more nuance, and can’t be changed with a restructure of the sports education system. Over a third of the girls stated that a lack of confidence is a major factor, and a whopping 75% said that body image was a sport inhibitor, which can’t be helped by being forced to do sports they don’t like in front of a group of sniggering boys. Now, I was a boy once and I can state with some confidence that boys can be arseholes. The government report also stated that 51% of girls were put off physical activity in general due to their experiences of PE in school. I find this stat heart-breaking as someone who looks back at PE, and team sports, with fond memories – I always tried to have PE at the end of my parents evening, so it could end on a high.
Women and girls who take part in sports are far more likely to partake in individual sports, such as running, and although they may enter mass participation events they are more likely to train alone (or with friends) than to join a club or formal group. I don’t want this for my daughter; I don’t want it for anyone’s daughter. Sport should be something enjoyed, not endured. As a result, I have tried to give them a range of memories that include physical activity. These have ranged from spending long summer’s days out exploring on our bikes and micro-adventures with wild camping to mass participation running and cycling events. Initially it was just a way to spend time outside with my family, but increasingly it is also about trying to create a positive reinforcement that sport is a good thing, whether it’s something done with friends and family or competitively in a mass participation event or in a team environment.
It’s been two years since my daughter and I did the Santa run in Plymouth city centre, and after messing up the entry last year I was determined not to make such a mistake again. The main difference to two years ago is that after years of “why can’t I come too?” my son was now old enough (he would have been last year) to enter, so it was now a family excursion. We decided to try somewhere new and entered the Santa run at the Eden Project, rather than returning to laps of Plymouth city centre.
The route starts up by the entrance to the Eden Project, and slowly drops down to the biomes. There are a couple of hundred Santas at the start and we end up splitting into pairs to make it a bit easier to keep track of each other. As the route slowly makes its way down I chat with my son, trying to stop him from going full gas from the get go.
Once the route reaches the bottom we head through the main entrance to the biomes and make our way, or fight our way, past bemused bystanders and visitors and into the Mediterranean biome. We complete our lap through the biome and exit through a side entrance rather than through the main entrance – which was far easier than the route in, before we begin our zig-zag ascent back to the finish line for a medal and a chocolate bar.
Having taken my daughter out for a few training runs before our first Santa Run, I was much more relaxed about their ability to run the 2km route, and decided that there would be no need to train for it. They proved this was the right decision, getting most the way round before the need to stop to have a drink – and tend to a stitch.
I, and hopefully the rest of my family, really had a great time. Really can’t go wrong with a run with a family and then going to see (the real) Santa.
If interested, the government report can be found here: