Jamie Oliver changed the way kids eat. Lauren Selby wants to do the same with sport
By LAUREN SELBY – Squash Mad Guest Columnist
Off The Wall Squash head coach Lauren Selby is alarmed at the lack of PE opportunities in Primary Schools, and sounds the clarion call that she wants to do something about it. And squash could be the perfect partner to breed a new generation of happy, healthy children.
Primary School rekindles memories of discipline, learning, respect, fun and a very heavy PE bag. I was very fortunate, because the primary school I attended was passionate about sport.
Most days we had some sort of PE, including regular sports fixtures against other schools as well as after-school training. And our sports day was the biggest event of the year. Trust me, competition was fierce. It wasn’t easy to get into the sports teams and many of us joined local clubs to improve in our preferred sports.
I clearly remember our rounders practice, focused, driven and tactically, very in depth. You weren’t allowed to just swipe at the ball, you were given clear tactical guidance before you went to bat.
Each fielder had a specific job, we went through scenarios and made sure each team member was clued up.
A few years ago I retired from playing squash professionally and embarked on a career as a squash coach. A decision which I feel was timed perfectly and has worked out better than I could ever have expected.
Off The Wall Squash CIC has a growing squash academy in Colchester and a team of people who are passionate about developing the game.
A vital element of our coaching programme involves delivering primary school squash courses and competitions. Over the past few years I have delivered countless lessons to primary school classes of various ages. I have had the pleasure of meeting thousands of children who (on the whole!) have been a joy to teach.
The other day I went into a primary school and stood in front of a class of 30 children. After the introductions I asked the children how many had heard of squash. The answer . . . none.
OK, fair enough. They are eight years old from a local village on the Essex/Suffolk border. Next question: who has ever held a racket of any sort? Tennis, badminton, table tennis, bat and ball on the beach, swingball? One lonely hand went up. My assistant and I almost keeled over.
My mind instantly flashed back to my primary school days. Back to summers in the garden with bats and balls. Back to my friend’s house and hitting a ball for hours against her garage wall.
How do you get to eight years of age and have never held a racket or bat of any sort? Maybe I’m naive and live in the past, or perhaps I need to broaden my mind and understand modern society.
On a more basic level, I am often in shock at the lack of hand-eye co-ordination of some of the primary school children.
When a child reaches 10 I would expect some level of throwing and catching skills. Time after time myself and the other Off The Wall Squash coaches have had to teach throwing and catching to children in Years 5 and 6.
Isn’t this a basic life skill which should be developed early on? I’m not saying every child needs to be a world-class cricketer, but surely every child should have the ability to throw and catch? I have to dismiss any excuses of money. You can make a ball by screwing up a piece of paper.
I’m not going to write this whole piece knocking primary school PE. I have been in quite a few schools with fantastic PE programmes, hugely passionate and talented children, and supportive teachers.
The school day is jam-packed but the Head teachers and teachers still manage to give PE the priority it deserves. They see the importance of health and fitness. Not only does PE stimulate the body, but also the mind.
What’s the point of this little article? Well I’m determined to change the opportunities given to children at primary school. Sport and PE has to be given more priority on the curriculum. In my opinion, every primary school needs a full time PE teacher.
If we don’t improve the health and fitness levels of our children the future will not be bright. This country, specifically the NHS, will be faced with a generation of people who have countless health issues.
I don’t see why squash can’t be the sport to push this revolution. Our coaches are certainly trying to change the attitudes of the primary schools we work with. This won’t be a short term project, this will take a long time to change. If Jamie Oliver can change the school dinners then surely the activity levels can be changed too!
I may not have as much clout as Jamie, but if you shout loud enough surely someone will hear.
Along with Off The Wall Squash CIC I will continue my mission.
Perhaps you could join in too?
Article first published by Off The Wall Squash