Protect kids from sports injuries, say experts at Whitechapel health conference

'Fit for Sport' programme gets youngsters into more activities like school sports

'Fit for Sport' programme gets youngsters into more activities like school sports - Credit: Fit for Sport

Fears have been raised about youngsters getting injured in sport at a two-day conference of doctors, professional players and public health experts in London’s East End.

Their concerns emerged as 20 Tower Hamlets primary schools signed up to a programme to get more youngsters active in organised sport at school.

“The occurrence of injury in competitive sport at school is high,” warned Public Health research author Prof Allyson Pollock.

“Rugby injuries in particular include concussions, spinal cord and head injuries at their most serious – which can even be fatal.

“There can also be emotional harm around issues of confidence, competitiveness and performance.”

The two-day seminar which ended this-afternoon, organised by Queen Mary University of London at its Blizard science research centre in Whitechapel, focussed on whether the government could do more to protect children injured in school sports activities.

“The government and schools want to increase levels of physical education, with competitive sport as an unquestionable good to improve fitness and physical confidence,” Prof Pollock explained.

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“But the negative impacts are wholly ignored. Current government policy sidesteps the need to address the risk of physical and emotional harm.”

Overall aim of the seminar was to identify gaps in government policy and knowledge.

The 2012 Olympics were to leave “a positive health legacy” in the community while Whitehall invested £480m to increase sports participation, the conference heard.

But physical activity among children continues to decline. A Sports England survey last year revealed a drop in sports activity by youngsters aged 16-25 compared to 2012.

The NSPCC reported during the Olympics year that one-in-four children taking part in sport suffered physical harm as a result, while three-out-of-four experienced emotional harm.

Meanwhile, a group of Tower Hamlets schools are signing up to a ‘Fit for Sport’ programme, to get 5,000 East End kids under 11 involved in competition sports.

The 20 schools include Bethnal Green’s Stewart Headlam Primary, whose PE coordinator Bob Curtis said: “Children are always asking if they can play against each other in organised leagues, games and challenges, as well as compete against other schools.

“This programme gives staff the resources and know-how to run activities and games at lunchtimes to help keep our pupils moving.”

Experts from Fit For Sport, a non-profit organisation which has been given £200,000 lottery funds to run the programme, train support and playground staff to organise sessions at break-times, lunchtime and after school, in addition to PE lessons.

Its founder Dean Horridge said: “We focus initially on basic skills such as running, jumping, co-ordination and agility. Even so-called ‘non sporty’ children enjoy these sessions, we find.”

The programme begins with “active fun” for children in Reception and Years 1 and 2, while those in Years 3 and 4 have competitive games and Years 5 and 6 more structured sports and competitions, with half going on to compete with other schools.