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UK Coaching Team
9
Rapport Building and Communicating Improving Physical Ability

How to Bring a Smile to The Daily Mile

For The Daily Mile™ to be a sustained success, schools must ensure they have a number of core principles firmly embedded from the outset and throughout. In the first of a two-part series, Blake Richardson chatted to Yorkshire Sport Foundation’s Shania Boom, who explains what methods need to be implemented and what the far-reaching benefits are for pupils when the programme is run efficiently

The scale and damaging impact of the UK’s inactivity crisis is as unpalatable as it is indisputable. 

There is extensive evidence of the wide-ranging health benefits that regular exercise can bring: physical, psychological, emotional, social, behavioural. Not to mention economic, with physical inactivity responsible for one in six UK deaths, according to Public Health England, at a cost to the public purse strings of £7.4 billion annually.

This evidence transcends political infighting and has focused minds, from government policy makers to their counterparts in education, sport, coaching and public health.

Schools find themselves at the forefront of the coordinated operation to expand the number of physical activity intervention programmes, due to the large amount of time children spend on the school premises, and the influential role that good teachers have on their pupils.

A wake-up call

Compulsory education dominates the waking hours of our children. Primary school children in England state schools currently spend 635 hours in the classroom each year, out of approximately 5,000 waking hours.

Consider too that more than 80% of children are failing to reach government guidelines on physical activity, and that children spend less time outside than prison inmates.

It is against this gloomy backdrop that The Daily Mile was born.

Uptake by primary schools has been swift and sweeping, and The Daily Mile is by far the most prominent school-based running programme in the country.

The hope is the simple concept will not only make children fitter, healthier, and more able to concentrate in the classroom but also help to build lifelong active habits among a generation of primary school children who are the least active in 30 years, and the first generation in a long time who will die before their parents through being inactive.

However, while the Department of Health and Social Care have name-checked The Daily Mile within its updated Childhood Obesity Plan, calling for “every primary school to adopt an active mile initiative, such as The Daily Mile”, the world of academia has been more hesitant and has offered only tentative endorsement, seeking more robust research evidence of its efficacy and effectiveness.

A well-oiled machine

Shania Boom is The Daily Mile Local Coordinator for Yorkshire Sport Foundation.

She has introduced the initiative into multiple schools across South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire and has seen the positive effects first-hand.

I find it so rewarding to go into a school and see the impact it is having in person. When you see the kids smiling and chatting with their friends while they are getting active; when you see the teachers joining in and encouraging them; it is wonderful to see.”

But Shania accepts that, for The Daily Mile to function as a dynamic exercise initiative that stands the test of time, it needs to be managed and cared for like the proverbial well-oiled machine.

Every cog needs to be perfectly aligned to guarantee smooth progress and ensure children strike up a positive relationship with physical activity.

So, what are these must-have components that are needed to deliver optimum results?

It’s got to be fun!

Launch day involves Shania speaking to the children in school assembly about what The Daily Mile is and linking it to the bigger picture of the benefits of being active.

“I explain that it’s a lot more than simply a physical activity initiative to help with fitness and the physical benefits of regular exercise.

I tell them that it will benefit them mentally as well, because The Daily Mile can generate improvements in focus and concentration, time on task and learning, as well as a reduction in the number of behaviour incidents.”

Children are spared a barrage of theory, jargon and acronyms. Action speaks louder than words, so it is not necessary for them to pore over statistics around MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity) or examine line graphs and pie charts that emphasise the need to follow the guidelines from the government’s Chief Medical Officers.

Most children do understand the importance of health and well-being, but they do not engage in sport and physical activity because they are fixated on the physical benefits – they do it because they enjoy it and it makes them happy,” says Shania.

“If all you do is push the fitness and the risks associated with any long-term lapse of physical activity, that can take away from the fun of it.

“At the end of the day kids feel happier as well as healthier by getting to go outside and run with their friends whilst at the same time having a break from, say, maths or English.”

It’s not a race

You will see the same pattern in every school. The active kids will sprint off into the distance as soon as they hear the signal to start.

And it’s okay if they disappear off the radar as quickly as a fighter jet, because it is the inactive children that teachers should be focusing their attention on.

I will walk round with the teachers and tell them not to worry too much about the competitive kids. For the initiative to be sustainable, it requires majorly encouraging the inactive kids.

That means either going round with them at the back, chatting and gently coaxing them to maybe ‘try and run to the end of the playground and then you can walk again’.

“Kids will give it a go. Some just need that bit of encouragement; that little push and that little target.”

But while active sporty kids who like to compete against their friends should not be discouraged from chasing personal bests, it should be impressed on children that it is not a race. The goal is a simple one: for each child to go that little bit further each time.

“It is not a competition and it’s not you do your three laps and then you stop. It’s you go as far as you can in 15 minutes. And because it is normally a small area and there are lots of laps, you don’t normally see people at the back – the fast and the slower blend in.

“But in my experience the children do like to know that, say, 10 laps of the playground is a mile, because that gives them something to work towards.”

It is the responsibility of the teacher to encourage those who are perhaps not trying hard enough, and who by dawdling are not reaching the activity intensity required to result in any health gain.

Compulsory exercise can be off-putting to those with a sedentary lifestyle but if teachers make it fun and exciting, then the kids will engage with anything, says Shania.

It is essential teachers bring a bit of energy to it, rather than sit on the sides with a cup of tea and their coat on.”

With teachers leading such busy lives, the The Daily Mile doubles as a perfect opportunity for primary school teachers to incorporate physical activity into their own daily routine.

And children will be inspired by teachers who join in, especially ones who are not known for their interest in sport and who are not the PE Subject Leader.

“If you are, say, a Maths Subject Leader and are outside giving it a go, then you are a role model to those kids who aren’t as active. This can have a real impact on the kids who need it the most.”

Building great relationships

Not only does The Daily Mile help build relationships between pupils, it also strengthens the bond between teachers and pupils.

It gives both parties an opportunity to do something together and the opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level.

As a teacher, it can be difficult to distribute your time equally between your class of around 30 children during lessons. The Daily Mile gives teachers the down time to interact with children on an individual basis.

It allows them to engage with the quieter ones, strike up a rapport and fathom more complex personalities, while getting a firm understanding of their needs, aspirations and personal preferences.

“That’s exactly what I tell teachers,” says Shania. “They might have the kids at the front of the class who are always answering their questions and who, every time they get a spare minute are always by their side. 

I tell them that this is their opportunity to chat to the quieter, more introverted children and have a conversation unrelated to school in a relaxed, friendly environment and start to build a relationship.”

 

‘Just give it a go’

A major selling point of The Daily Mile is the fact it can improve learning. Oxymoron fans may want to jot this outstanding example down:

It is a time out of learning that can improve the quality of learning,” says Shania.

While anecdotal evidence of this is growing by the day, the academic world wants to see more empirical evidence to support the argument.

Challenges come from inside as well outside the school gates. The capacity to deliver The Daily Mile on top of teachers’ other roles is frequently cited as a barrier to implementation.

Shania gets it. The prospect of additional administration work and extra pressure to deliver pupil outcomes is, she admits, an oft-quoted concern and getting ‘buy-in’ across the school is her biggest challenge.

PE is usually the first subject to suffer when schools feel the pressure of accountability over exam grades and league tables, and with more teachers than ever claiming to be at breaking point, asking them to spin yet another plate can understandably meet with some resistance.

“Which is why the advice I give comes from other teachers and Heads. Because if you say ‘do this and this’ to a teacher they will likely say, ‘you’re not a teacher, you don’t know what it’s like’.

I recommend they just give it a go, as when they see the wide-ranging benefits, including improved focus and behaviour in the classroom, the likelihood is they will happily bump it up the priority list, as it can actually alleviate some of their other day-to-day pressures.

“Those schools who have embedded it don’t look back.”

A Heads-up over timetabling

Shania takes a variety of approaches in supporting schools to embed The Daily Mile programme into the school day. Typically, there will be a snowball effect, where other classes see what is happening and pupils say to their teacher: ‘Miss, I want a go’. This bottom up approach is an effective way of involving the whole school.

But the real key to maximising interest is to get the full support of the Head Teacher, as maintaining a supportive school climate is integral to the programme’s long-term success.

“If you don’t get the Head fully on board then it can slowly die out,” says Shania.

“In those schools where it works best, the Heads are pushing it with all their teachers and are sticking with the core principles, which is that they do it every day (or a minimum of three times a week) and do not timetable it. The class teacher should decide when to go out as they know their class and can respond to their needs.”

The recommendation that teachers do not timetable The Daily Mile should not be a matter for debate, as far as Shania is concerned.

“It’s supposed to be a break from lessons,” she says. “When it’s timetabled it takes away from that fun break element. A lot of schools timetable it before or after lunch, and that’s when it can become a chore – generating a ‘we have to do it’, rather than a ‘we get to do it’ way of thinking. It should be as and when the teacher feels it is necessary.

The afternoon is a good time, when children may be starting to flag and lose concentration and are not listening any more. And first thing in the morning, as kids get a burst of energy and will come in excited and ready to learn.”

Lunchtime is also a no-no. This should be set aside for children to have fun and play. And teachers need their down time too.

Some schools opt to use lunchtime staff to supervise, but it is likely they will not be as committed to the project or the pupils’ development and will not be as highly trained in how to run it. Plus, teachers will also be missing out on the relationship-building benefits.

 

Come rain or shine

There is an elephant in the room that still needs to be addressed: the inclement British weather. Don’t the regular year-round deluges we experience put the kibosh on making exercise a daily habit? What if schools have no reliable facility or space available during wet or icy weather?

We say you can still go out in the rain. We need to build resilience in children. We don’t stop going out to do our weekly shop when it rains, we put a coat on,” is Shania’s common sense response.

“Obviously torrential rain is another matter, and running on lots of surface water can be dangerous, and it is up to the teacher to make that judgement.

“I’ve done The Daily Mile with Year Sixes when it has been raining quite hard and asked them if they still wanted to go out and none of them cared. They just put their hoods up and got on with it.”

If it is pouring down, a contingency is to do a 15-minute activity indoors, like Super Movers or GoNoodle.

At the end of the day, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

And by cultivating a can-do attitude amongst teaching staff, The Daily Mile will run and run and the children will continue to have fun, fun, fun.

The Daily Mile: Part 2

We visited Cudworth Churchfield Primary School to see The Daily Mile in action

Read it Now

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