Impel, not propel

As part of our series of articles related to National School Sport Week, John Driscoll, Executive Director sports coach UK, blogs about the important role coaches play in inspiring young people to want to take part in sport.

Impel, not propel

With National School Sport Week taking place this week it is a great opportunity to showcase the great benefits of PE and sport, but we must not forget getting children active is a year round challenge...

Don’t get me wrong – last year 1.8 million children took part in events at around 5,000 schools. This year promises to be even better. Since 2008, the Youth Sport Trust has shown it’s a great way to get young people involved and try out a whole range of different sports. For me, the issue is that it shouldn’t go on just for one week, but for the whole year.

To quote Penny Rother, UK Community Coach of the Year: “Sport should be like brushing your teeth – something you do every day without thinking about it.”

The role of coaches and teachers in encouraging children into activity and sport is absolutely critical. Whoever helps a child take that first step into a sport could be responsible for transforming their lives.

For a tiny minority, it’s the start of the long, hard road toward elite success. For the vast majority, it’s the start of an active healthy lifestyle with all the benefits of mental and physical wellbeing and the likelihood of higher attainment.

The shocking stats on childhood obesity now show how we got it so wrong in the 1980s and 1990s. As a society, the children we failed then are parents of the one in three overweight or obese children leaving primary school now. Unless we do things differently, we’ll see history repeat itself when they in turn become parents.

With a greater mutual understanding between government departments and a wide range of organisations, the signs are encouraging. Strategies and policies are important, but they aren’t the boots on the ground. That’s where passionate people come in.

Of course inspiring PE teachers and coaches aren’t the cure for obesity, but they can be part of a co-ordinated drive for a healthier, more active nation.

Get it right and the child is hooked for life. Two of my favourite quotes come from Kurt Hahn, founder of Gordonstoun and the driving force in both Outward Bound and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.

He once said “There are three ways of trying to win the young. There is persuasion. There is compulsion and there is attraction. You can preach at them; that is a hook without a worm. You can say "you must". That is the devil. And you can tell them, "you are needed"; that hardly ever fails.”

Those who decry the role of school sport quote examples, perhaps from their own childhood, of children being forced to take part in certain sports, ridiculed when they didn’t succeed and being put off for life. National School Sport Week gives us all the opportunity to highlight the exact opposite – children enthused and inspired to continue in a wide range of activities.

That’s where Hahn’s second quote comes in. “It is the sin of the soul to force young people into opinions - indoctrination is of the devil - but it is culpable neglect not to impel young people into experiences.”

As a member of the D of E Expedition Safety Sub Committee, I always remember Chairman Wally Keay’s codicil to this quote. Never once to waste words, Wally would say: “Remember, it’s impel, not propel”.

This week, great teachers and great coaches will impel over a million young people into experiences. With the right words, actions and signposts, they will be doing their best to create an active nation inspired through excellent coaching. It’s good to be a part of that.

sports coach UK has collaborated with a range of other national partners to create a knowledge bank of advice on coaching in schools. The toolkit is free to access here.