Heavy lifting on International Women’s Day

Michaela Breeze argues that that sport should sit at the top of the curriculum

My experience of sport when I was younger was to do anything and everything. My parents provided me with a wealth of opportunities but I pursued weightlifting because it was different. I’ve been teaching Physical Education at Ivybridge Community College in Devon for nearly 10 years since 2001. My father was also a PE teacher and, through growing up in that environment, it’s always something that I’ve wanted to do. It’s a great way for me to put something back into sport and positively influence youngsters.

To celebrate International Women’s Day we are publishing these reflections by Wales’ most successful female weightlifter. The Cardiff Olympian struck gold at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006 before bowing out at the top of her 18 year career by taking silver at the Delhi Commonwealth Games last year.

I believe having positive role models in PE lessons is key to promoting a healthy and active lifestyle long term.  Being passionate about what you do is important and a PE teacher’s input can potentially be massive. The majority of those who make it at the highest levels in sport have a lot to thank their PE teachers for. I certainly do.

There are lots of positive aspects that youngsters can learn through sport and PE. Physical literacy can be developed through learning and understanding more about how the body works and develops. Success in sport can also provide a valuable boost to a young person’s confidence, helping them to believe in their abilities. This is why core PE needs to be differentiated to suit individual needs, ensuring each young person can experience success regardless of their ability.

I truly believe that sport should sit at the top of the wider curriculum. I guess that’s because I am passionate about it. But at the end of the day, a healthy active individual is a fitter, healthier, more alert, more engaged individual who is less likely to suffer from poor health and is better equipped to cope with the demands of life. Training and committing time to sport can also assist in developing a range of other skills and behaviours such as time management, commitment, perseverance, team skills and good communication.

I personally believe the use extracurricular clubs not only supports the pursuit of excellence, but can also can provide a vent for some young people and help them to stay on the straight and narrow. Sport develops countless areas of discipline, which can create many positive transferable skills for other areas of life and academic study.

Sport (at a decent level) is a qualification in itself, while at the same time provides valuable life experiences and key lessons. Balancing training commitments with academic or work commitments can be tricky at times. But, whilst it isn’t easy, I hope I have shown that it is possible to combine work and sport. I strongly believe that you need an outlet and a break from studies to keep the mind fresh and revitalized. What better way to do that than by releasing endorphins through sport?

We need to make sure that those who are working in sport are supported to provide the best possible experiences for children and young people. We need to make sure that our facilities are accessible to all and that any cost or charge associated with sport is appropriate and doesn’t act as a barrier to participation.

Families have a strong role to play too. You don’t have to be sporty to promote a healthy and active lifestyle. Like it or not, it’s a fact that exercise is key to a young person being healthier in later life. Who wouldn’t want their child to grow up active and healthy? I want to see a Wales where we’re all working together to create opportunities for participation and encouraging our children and young people to take part. All adults have to be aware that they are role models and that a negative attitude towards sport can easily be reflected and create a lasting barrier. Regardless of ability or previous experience we are all responsible for encouraging a fitter, healthier Wales.

We can all do more to develop and encourage everyone to participate in sport more often. At the end of the day, if you get it right from the outset then sport will have a significant positive effect on the health of the nation, not only improving lifestyles but also potentially easing the pressure on our health service.

Sport Wales’ research has found that young people tend to drop out of sport after the age of 15 and that’s particularly the case amongst girls. We need to look closely at why this is happening, engaging with young people around what would keep them involved. Are there financial barriers? Is it that they are not aware of the opportunities available to them, or are the opportunities in our communities not what they want to participate in? It’s crucial that we have a wide range of diverse opportunities available to our young people, run by passionate and enthusiastic people, if we are to achieve the benchmark of a minimum of five hours of sport a week for our young people.

As for getting more girls involved, I would like to see more TV time for female athletes, which will in turn provide more role models and greater awareness of what sports are on offer. It is astounding how often significant achievements by our sportswomen go unrecognised, compared to the high profile of some more male dominated sports. Sport is naturally diverse through the range of activities that people can participate in and the media needs to ensure this is reflected. Women’s sport in particular needs much greater publicity if we are to spark the imagination of today’s generation of young girls and get them off the sidelines.

So much more needs to be done across the country to provide opportunities for youngsters to experience many different sports and reach their potential. With the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and also the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow we need to ensure that we are harnessing the interest that these events will generate into delivering tangible outcomes in terms of participation in sport across Wales and the UK.

Legacy is not solely about economic impact; it is also about the impact on our communities in terms of inspiring the next generation to get involved in sport. We need to have the coaches, volunteers, equipment and facilities in order to make the most of these opportunities.

My dream is for sport to, one day, become an inseparable daily ingredient of Welsh life, such as in Australia or New Zealand. We should be measuring ourselves against these great sporting nations and taking up the challenge to grow participation and raise performance. I believe that Wales’ record in producing world class sporting stars demonstrates that we can achieve this, if we start young and work together.

Michaela Breeze is a full-time PE teacher at Ivybridge Community College.

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