Sport and physical activity in Scotland’s colleges

Thanks to Stew Fowlie, Chief Operating Officer of Scottish Student Sport, for writing this guest-blog for us. Scottish Student Sport works to increase and promote involvement in physical activity and supports the development of appropriate professional structures and systems throughout sport in Tertiary Education in Scotland.

There has never been a more important time for Scotland’s students to regularly access physical activity and sport. Whilst the current circumstances do not make it any easier, they compound the importance of activity as an essential part of the modern student experience. This is a pivotal moment for sport and leisure, when many local providers face significant challenges. Now is a moment when colleges should step up for the benefit of their populations of students, staff and the communities they are linked to.

Here at Scottish Student Sport (SSS) this is our bread and butter, and our dedicated network of staff, students and volunteers are highly motivated to achieve the maximum amount of activity that 20-21 will allow. SSS is plugged in to the sport network in Scotland like never before and can provide a lean and student-centred gateway to activity, taking this vital area of student life out of the ‘too difficult’ pile for those that are new to the game.

Colleges across the land are invited to hand us the challenge of plotting an ambitious route through Covid and beyond – working with our network to embed principles of daily movement, varied activity, student engagement and ‘striving together’ across Scotland’s campuses. Not sure how the latest guidelines might be applied across indoor and outdoor sports activity? No problem – we are here and happy to help!

So what? Why would one bother with it all in the first place – and especially at a time of crisis?

Sport has innumerable benefits, from the traditionally well understood personal impacts on health, and wellbeing, through the educational and developmental aspects around skills, mindset, and behaviour, to institutional and societal outcomes in attainment, cohesion, transition, and civic pride.

No other area – curricular or otherwise – has the same power to meet a range of agendas for colleges and their populations, creating a student experience to be rightly proud of. Taking part in an activity you enjoy is also arguably the most fun you can have on a college campus, whether as a student or a member of staff, whilst providing you with a productivity boost that cancels out the time invested ‘away from the desk’.

Scotland’s college campuses should be places that promote wellbeing, attract engagement, build a positive sense of identity, and support non-curricular learning in their populations. The opportunity is now here to do just that and it shouldn’t need the advent of the Prime Minister hiring a personal trainer to underline the importance of active lifestyles.

As successive national Active Student surveys conclusively show, students who lead an active lifestyle report higher confidence, better mood, greater optimism about the future, enhanced social trust, and richer personal wellbeing scores. They also report a greater sense of connection to the people and places around them. The benefits are most true for the most active, and especially so for those within a sports club, where the opportunity to benefit from a sense of mutual purpose and identity is strongest.

There is also a compellingly strong association between the most important universal skills for working life, and those gained by young people when they take part in sport. Better still the effect is multiplied when students are entrusted to design, organise and deliver activities for themselves and their peers. Student sport at its best is a triumph of co-design and of student leadership in action. Time management, accountability, handling difficult situations, balancing competing needs, nuanced and tailored communication skills, real-life teamwork, responding well to success and failure…the list goes on and on…

The opportunity that sport and physical activity provides for genuine student engagement is significant and can prove to be enhancement led in a way that other aspects of student life can only aspire to.

Happily there are already many examples of colleges embracing the opportunities presented alongside the curriculum – contributing to the increase in activity that the SSS network has enjoyed for sixteen consecutive years. Whether engaging in Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, progressing through the College Sport Award, supporting individuals to explore leadership training or qualify as an official, or engaging in competitive action across any of 35 sports, there are numerous ways to get involved.

Whilst the direct and indirect restrictions of the pandemic are very real, they are definitely not insurmountable, and college leaders in Scotland should come to view a commitment to physical activity and sport as an investment, not a cost. We are determined to make that investment as valuable and sustainable as possible on behalf of the whole network.

Whether you see opportunities or challenges please consider these as very much belonging to us all. Life is a team sport and SSS aims to be a dedicated member of your squad this season, and long into the future.

Find out more about Scottish Student Sport here. 

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