The powerful ‘This Girl Can’ TV campaign run by Sport England has signalled a focus away from body image and sporting accolades to promoting the positive attitude and mental state of mind that exercise can offer.
And it’s a sentiment very much shared by the champion of Girls’ Sport development at King Edward’s Witley, a co-educational independent day and boarding School for 11-18 year olds.
Mrs Hannah Pullen is an enthusiastic advocate of sports and believes all girls should be encouraged to participate, regardless of any clear talent or competitive edge. An ex-international netballer herself, sport has always featured heavily in Mrs Pullen’s life and from a very young age she developed a passion for sport and health related fitness.
“My absolute priority is to involve all the girls and to create an inclusive environment where everyone has the opportunity to reap the many benefits of participating in sport - rather than just concentrating on the ‘sporty’ types. For some of our international pupils, this may be the first time that they have ever played a team game such as netball, so my job is to find the right sport or activity so that every girl enjoys an active lifestyle. There is a team out there for everyone, whether you choose to play competitively or just for fun.”
Girls at King Edward’s have access to a broad choice of time tabled sports including hockey, netball, rounders, tennis, swimming. In addition to this sports feature heavily within the programme of after school activities on offer, with badminton, fitness, yoga and aerobics proving popular options. Whilst the stereotypical boarding school environment might be associated with traditional sports such as lacrosse and hockey, today’s girls are loving circuit training, gym sessions and established exercise to music classes such as ‘legs, bums and tums’!
“We want to empower our girls to understand and appreciate the benefits that they will enjoy if they incorporate sport into their lives. When it comes to competitive school fixtures, we are very passionate and the girls want to win. However not all girls have that competitive streak in them. For the girls who do not play team sports our message is about finding something they enjoy.” continues Mrs Pullen.
Visual references to support this ethos are clearly evident at the School. Motivational pictures of influential role models such as Jessica Ennis-Hill feature on the sports notice boards and there is an abundance of nutritional information available to educate on the importance of selecting the right foods to fuel the body, as well as printed out work-outs.
“The girls need to find a sport that they enjoy so we work very hard to make the sessions fun and to inject as much variety as possible. We are constantly looking at new sports to consider and never allow gender to be a barrier to our success. The girls’ football team has become a real force to be reckoned with and we are currently reviewing the opportunity to create a girls’ cricket team” says Mrs Pullen.
Outside of the obvious enhanced health and fitness rewards, there are numerous other compelling advantages to girls’ participating in sports.
“Playing sport provides an opportunity to completely switch off from the stresses of everyday life and it is therefore good not just for the body but also for the mind. Great friendships are established on the sports field, which represents an unrivalled forum to mix with other children from all different walks of life, including those you may not usually socialise with. Finally, taking part in sport offers girls the chance to grow in confidence and find out more about themselves. It is surprising to see how many girls may be quiet in the classroom but put them in a sporting environment and they blossom into a much more assured, outgoing person.”
The future for girls in sport is hugely positive. At King Edward’s Witley, ‘This Girl Can’ is a reality