Keeping youngsters active during lockdown is South Cambridgeshire School Sports Partnership aim
It is not just professional or senior sport that missed the culmination of their seasons, or the start of a new one.
Throughout the autumn and winter months, primary school children take part in football, cross country, hockey and rugby tournaments at school, district and regional level.
Run by the School Sports Partnerships, they offer so much to youngsters – the opportunity to be active, teamwork, learning, representing their schools – and, with the Spirit of the Games accolade, the chance to be recognised for sporting behaviour.
Moving into the summer, other disciplines come into their own, such as netball, cricket and athletics, with both phases leading to Spring and Summer County School Games.
The calendar may have had to be cancelled, but South Cambs School Sports Partnership has been determined to stay engaged with pupils.
“From the start, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust asked us to change our work programmes and our focus and asked us to focus on supporting schools with virtual physical activity challenges and trying to encourage children to be active at home,” said South Cambs SSP manager Claire McDonnell.
“We’ve tried to work together as a county group of School Games organisers, with Living Sport who are the Active Sports partnership, to coordinate resources and effort.”
One such idea was to set up some virtual sports challenge weeks for children that would be missing out on their rugby, netball and hockey competitions.
A range of different physical activity challenges were created, with some competitions added in to include individual prizes.
“We came up with resources and ideas that we then shared with the primary schools and asked them to share them with parents back at home,” said McDonnell.
“We had some prizes for schools that managed to engage the most children in those challenges as well.
“We’ve been doing a lot of that via direct emails to schools, but also through social media, trying to engage with parents that way.
“It was about trying to encourage children to be active at home during all of this. Things aren’t normal, they can’t see their friends, but can they get involved in some of the physical activity challenges, perhaps get parents and siblings involved as well?”
The skills challenges have ranged from keepy-uppies on a tennis racquet, to rallies with a partner, netball chest passes against a wall to fitness challenges such as a speed bounce and standing long jump.
Matt Morley, of Cambridgeshire Cricket, helped to create a week’s worth of cricket challenges.
In place of the Spring School Games, a virtual event was run, which consisted of a different challenge every hour including creating a closing ceremony for a sports event.
“Some of the kids had sent in films of themselves designing their own medals, making a little podium, setting up their teddy bears as a crowd and they had music playing,” said McDonnell.
“We’ve tried to offer something in the absence of not being able to do the normal events.”
It is not just about the physical challenges, they have tried to incorporate cross-curricular challenges such as designing a Wimbledon towel as part of the tennis focus.
The aim has been about engaging children in learning through the context of sport.
“It’s been a bit hard to track the participation,” said McDonnell.
“We’ve had some schools and young people that got involved from the start, and have stayed involved from one week to the next.
“We’ve had different sports each week and had really good interaction and engagement from those.”
There have also been prizes on offer. McDonnell had entered a Hoohah 10K before the lockdown, and they ended up doing their races virtually. Participants had to send in a copy of their route on Strava to prove completion, and were sent a medal in return with the words ‘keep on running’ on the back of the envelope.
It sowed a seed.
“I thought it was a really nice idea and something nice to get through the post during these times,” said McDonnell.
“I decided to do it for the kids that would take part. I went into the office to pick up the box of medals we would normally be giving out at events and asked parents submitting videos and photos if they were happy to share their postal address, I had something to send out.
“It’s been nice getting photos back of the children with their medals and hearing from parents saying they were so pleased to get their medals.
“That’s been quite rewarding, but we’ve missed seeing the children out at events.”