By Catriona McAllister, CEO, Jersey Sport
In Jersey, we’ve always struggled to engage teenagers in sport and physical activity programmes due to many complex cultural and socio-economic factors. The ripple effect of the pandemic means that our young people require more mental and physical health support than ever, but in a way that is most beneficial to them.
So, what can we do to re-engage our young people and empower them to make positive behavioural changes?
It’s a proven fact that team sport and regular activity has a huge impact on our physical and emotional health, but the answer to re-engaging teenagers does not come from simply designing programmes and expecting them to come out of their bedrooms and show up -we need to engage with them in a more positive way.
The important piece of the puzzle is asking children and young people directly what they actually want and need.
In the recent ‘Life on the Rock’ Report*, organised by the Children’s Commissioner for Jersey, local children (aged 9-18) were asked to comment on how they spent their leisure time and the activities they enjoyed. Many young people spoke about ‘the positive impact of leisure activities on their mental health, providing a motivation to leave the house, while many emphasised the importance of the social aspect.’ Some children commented positively on the wide range of activities they’ve been able to participate in, including rugby, swimming, netball and golf. However, one 14 year old said: “I feel like as a teenager there’s nothing much for us to do. Like there’s stuff to do if you’re 10 or under and there’s things to do if you’re 18+ but being 12/13-16 there’s literally nothing to do.” The additional cost of buses, or the strain on private transport for parents were identified as limiting factors for teenagers in participating in sports and leisure activities. When it comes to parks and open spaces, broken equipment and areas falling into decline were highlighted as a missed opportunity for Jersey fulfilling its potential.
Anti-social behaviour, drugs and underage drinking are also big issues across the island and it’s my belief that given the opportunity to get out of a bad situation, many children and teens will jump at the chance to improve their life and create a better future.
Jersey Sport, need to work alongside other agencies to support and understand the problems faced by teenagers today, listen to their needs and create facilities, programmes and pathways they actually want to engage with and feel safe doing so.
The question is: How do we all work together to create a supportive framework that enriches lives and is not seen as ‘uncool’ or ‘too structured’, to give young people the freedom they need in places where they actually want to hang out?
Given the current shift in society post-pandemic, now is the perfect time to start planning a new direction for the island that will take us through the next few decades. We need people to come together to see the bigger picture: one that encompasses issues such as increasing everyone’s access to mental health support and physical activity programmes.
Sport is just one part of this bigger picture, and teenagers are not just one segment of society, they are our future! In nurturing physical talent, we create more world class athletes. In providing children plentiful opportunities to live a healthy, active life, we create future parents who raise active, healthy families – which, as we’ve all seen during lockdown, is a great way to improve family bonds, communication and increase individual happiness. In supporting every islander’s right to access facilities to support their health and wellbeing at all levels, we remove the pressure on the health system and simultaneously improve the economy through less sick days and more productive employees.
The recent visit by The British & Irish Lions rugby team was no doubt an inspiration to many of our young people; a shining example of success when you work hard, train hard and stay focused on your goals. I know that there are many sports teams locally who would welcome new teenagers into their clubs, whether to play sport or act as a volunteer. Encouraging teens to spectate at events would give them the opportunity to be immersed in a motivating, high energy environment where they feel included and safe.
At Jersey Sport, we’ve recognised the need to engage directly with teenagers and we’re looking forward to working with other agencies to expand on our new teenage programme that aims to deliver fun, engaging and relevant sessions, build rapport and provide positive sport and physical activity opportunities.
According to the Jersey Children and Young People’s Survey (2019)**, 48% of Year 10 students and 60% of Year 12 students wish they did more physical activity.
Across all age groups (Year 4 to Year 12) a lack of time, lack of confidence, not knowing where to start, no-one to be active with and cost were identified as key barriers to undertaking more physical activity, making it clear that our children and teenagers really do want and need support.
We simply cannot sit on the sidelines and do nothing.
We have to work together and think outside of the box to create amazing new opportunities and facilities that support children, teens and young adults to feel empowered and in control of creating a healthy, bright and positive future.