MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: All children will benefit from PE in schools initiative

Creating an outlook and attitude in young teens that physical activity is a habit worth having has positive implications for every sport, writes Michael Moynihan.

Last week yours truly spoke to Clive Byrne of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals about sports and schoolchildren.

We kicked around the notion of balancing leaving certificate study, for instance, with sports commitments like the senior cups and championships which attract so much focus around this time of year.

That’s fair enough for the small percentage engaged in elite sports, but what about the vast majority of kids who don’t make the top team come sixth year? Is our definition of sports — and success in sports — that bit too narrow?

I chatted to Betty McLaughlin about broadening out that notion. A regional team leader with Junior Cycle for Teachers, she’s responsible for rolling out a programme of wellbeing in the junior cycle (first year to third year) in schools.

“For starters, there are huge moves in schools — any student coming into first year in secondary school last September is guaranteed a double PE class a week over the three-year cycle delivered by a qualified PE teacher. That’s a change, because, before, anyone could deliver it.

“The second thing is they’re in a wellbeing programme, and the important thing about that is that being active is a big part of it — one of the six indicators of wellbeing is being active, which is why that’s included in schools at the junior cycle.

“So kids are encouraged to have 30 minutes of physical activity per day, and that encouragement is coming from all teachers, because it’s a community effort. It doesn’t have to be sport — it can be walking around, so long as it shows they’re getting up and moving and being active.”

What’s interesting about this is the drive to give children good habits — all children. The competitive ones will always gravitate towards organised sports, but instilling those healthy habits creates a rising tide for all.

“Exactly — you’ll find often that it’s the same cohort of kids who are involved in elite sports too. They’re on all the teams, but then there are others who aren’t involved at all.

“If it’s a school that puts a premium on winning silverware, then that’s where a lot of the resources may go. The Department (of Education) is therefore encouraging kids to become more physically active generally as opposed to a certain number of them playing on the schools’ top teams.”

The benefits are quantifiable: “There’s a huge link between students who are active and involved physically, and better learning outcomes.”

It’s not all bad news either, says McLaughlin. She cites the efforts of schools to cut out sales of fizzy, high-sugar drinks, and the prevalence of water-bottles among even primary school children as evidence of changes which have been made already.

There are other, smaller changes that could be made. Changes in attitude, maybe. Getting kids active in the sunshine of Australia is relatively easy, but colder places than Ireland don’t shun their responsibilities either.

“It’s easier somewhere like Australia, certainly, but take a place like Finland, where it’s very cold, and yet they have a terrific programme of health and wellbeing — which includes physical activity — in their school curriculum.

Moving past the headlines when considering sport is a good idea generally, but in this case it has clear and definite benefits that shouldn’t be ignored.

Creating an outlook and attitude in young teens that physical activity is a habit worth having has positive implications for every sport. If the general culture becomes healthier, that raises standards — and elite athletes start from a better base, surely?

Add in the small matter of a fitter populace, and it’s win-win all round.

Russian roulette

I have more interest in getting a chemical peel of my undercarriage than in watching the World Cup — sorry, the FIFA World Cup — usually, but these are not the usual times.

This year’s edition is to be held in Russia, which will feature such household locations as the Republic of Tatarstan, and Krasnodar Krai, and I am happy to say that I have more interest in getting a chemical peel for my undercarriage than in watching, etc, etc.

More luck to you if you are looking forward to this tournament, which seems to have ‘not being Qatar’ as its one major advantage, but the keening and wailing from across the water about going reached a crescendo during the week when England manager Gareth Southgate admitted that if players didn’t feel comfortable going to Russia, they were free to withdraw from the quad. This stifled a mental image I had of grizzled Jack-tars press-ganging Harry Kane or some such out of his mock-Tudor mansion and on to a galleon/Airbus heading eastwards.

More’s the pity.

‘Laochra Gael’ is still raising the bar

Late to the feast on this one, but still: another season of Laochra Gael has come and now (almost) gone.

What Nemeton and TG4 have done with this series is created an essential library of mini-biographies, one which benefited immeasurably this year from being stretched to one hour (disclosure: your correspondent has popped up a couple of times on previous series as a contributor).

It’s more than a clip show — the producers have always been able to unearth some hidden gems of old footage showing the central character with a teenage haircut, while invariably the controversial parts of the subject’s career, if such exist, are addressed head on. The questions aren’t shown but the answers are always revealing.

The fact that the show is in Irish is notable mostly because that isn’t notable. At a time when the Irish language is under severe pressure in one part of the country, the producers make no great demands on a viewer who has little Irish, and the programme is always accessible to the general public.

This year they’ve featured Henry Shefflin, Aisling Thompson, Graham Geraghty and Lar Corbett, while this week’s show with Mickey Harte is the last in the current series.

The title of this week’s show — Spiorad Dochloíte — is one that could be applied to the producers. Looking forward to the 2019 edition already.

Behemoth of a book ideal for a train trip

I don’t know if it was The Power Broker by Robert Caro which did it, or the documentaries about Jane Jacobs, or David Maraniss’s Once In A Great City, but this urbanism lark has really caught my attention.

I just finished writing a book which owes a good deal to Maraniss’s masterwork (the title of which is deceptively good, I now know only too well).

But here comes another book out of the same general neighbourhood.

Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World by Joshua B Freeman is the kind of tome that tells you two years ago there were 350,000 people making iPhones in a factory complex in Zhengzhou.

One for the next train journey to Dublin.

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