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UK Coaching Team
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Children Organising and Planning Community Integration

PE Teacher Mr Jeff a Safe Pair of Hands in Testing Times

One of the aims of UK Coaching Week is to showcase the coaching community’s amazing efforts to keep the nation physically and mentally healthy during Covid-19. Blake Richardson spoke to PE teacher Steven Jeff, who is a shining example of how to deliver #GreatCoaching in a time of adversity. His desire to inspire the children of North Yorkshire has even caught the attention of a Premier League goalkeeping legend

Chances are, in 20, 30, even 40 years’ time, there will be a number of adults dotted around the country – the greatest proportion most likely concentrated in and around the Selby area – who, in their quieter moments of nostalgic reflection, fondly call to mind their former PE teacher, Mr Jeff.

Because everyone remembers the name of their favourite teacher. They are preserved in our memory banks, undimmed by the inexorable passage of time.

In the darkest days of this pandemic, sports coach Steven Jeff has been a beacon of light for hundreds of children aged three to 11 (plus a considerable number of parents). By keeping them moving, keeping them learning and keeping them smiling, he has helped them build a bank of cherished memories that will stand the test of time.

PE home learning

As we are all aware, children’s education and activity levels have been hit particularly hard by coronavirus, and coaches have had to diversify their coaching to meet the many challenges the pandemic has posed and continues to pose.

A full-time specialist sports coach working for the Ebor Academy Trust, Steven teaches Primary PE at four schools in the Trust’s Selby Hub – Brotherton & Byram Community Primary Academy, Staynor Hall Community Primary Academy, Camblesforth Community Primary Academy and Tadcaster Primary Academy.

When the country went into lockdown, to borrow a phrase popular with Primary School teachers, he got straight to work on turning children’s frowns upside down. 

Like all good coaches do when faced with a new challenge, his instincts immediately kicked in and, faster than you can say the words ‘fundamental movement skills’, began to think of ways to mitigate the upheaval in children’s lives that lockdown was set to cause.

A key priority was to harness the excess energy that children would be accumulating by staying at home and channel it in an engaging and educational way. 

A short time later, he became one of the first wave of coaches in lockdown to set up his own YouTube channel.

“I was working from home full-time, but while we were fortunate in our schools that a lot of the Key Stage 2 children had access to a Chromebook laptop, not every family did,” Steven explains. 

However, most families nowadays do have access to smartphones, iPads and TVs, where they can easily access YouTube, so I decided this would be a good way to deliver information home, so all parents and children could access PE content.

“Some children need to stay active more than others, some children need more encouragement than others, but all children benefit both mentally and physically by getting active, so I wanted to create home learning physical education and physical activity videos for young children of all ages and at different stages of development to have a go at.”

 

The videos have been a huge hit and – alongside the phenomenal efforts of hundreds of other likeminded coaches and teachers throughout the country – have helped to promote public awareness of the benefits of great coaching, ensuring greater recognition of the role that coaches play in our communities

Furthermore, the proliferation of home learning videos from the nation’s ‘community champions’ has inspired a new generation of home coaches, unleashing the untapped potential of parents – the secret and hidden workforce in coaching – and leaving them brimful of ideas for how to keep their children entertained and active.

Collectively, these pioneers have shown that great coaching is a core solution to both the immediate recovery of the nation and the longer term economic, health and well-being outcomes of the UK post Covid-19.

Check this out Petr!

It didn’t take long for Steven’s short and inventive recordings to catch on – catch being the operative word – scoring a winner with just his second ever post, when international goalkeeper Petr Čech replied.

The former Chelsea and Arsenal keeper responded to his 'Clapping Challenge' by posting his own video.

I was as shocked as anyone when I looked on my mentions and saw that Petr Cech had taken on the challenge – I had to look twice and confirm it was actually him.”

 

 

While Steven has an easy-going presentation style and does a fantastic job of combining the teaching of fundamental movement skills with first-rate motivational skills, the real star of the show, he admits, is his young daughter Isla.

A willing and able participant in a lot of his videos, she epitomises the ‘give it a go spirit’ that is such an important factor in children’s physical and social development.

“She’s only just turned five and it shows the children that, if she can give it a go, then there’s no reason why they can’t. 

And if she makes a few mistakes along the way, then that’s absolutely fine, as we expect children to make mistakes. The important thing is for children to find out what they enjoy by trying out a wide variety of activities.”

And variety really is the name of the game for Steven.

“I try to put lots of different options in the activities too because I know that lots of families won’t have access to all the equipment. So, like with the clapping challenge, if they don’t have a football, I tell them they can try using a rolled-up pair of socks, some fruit or, for younger children, a balloon.”

Developing the whole child

While the initial focus of the videos was on the physical element, Steven gradually added layers of sophistication to the learning, featuring activities linked to the Primary PE curriculum.

“At first we just needed to get something out there quickly to make sure the children were staying active. Then we could develop them over time to ensure they were benefiting the other domains we were trying to target.

We were mindful, for example, of the impact lockdown was also having on children’s mental health. At our schools we look at developing the whole child by taking a holistic approach, so we don’t just focus on the physical aspects; we’re also looking at the social and emotional side of things and boosting children’s cognitive skills.”

Steven said he knew that by getting them moving, it would be getting them thinking, but what he didn’t know for certain was whether his videos were being watched.

“The main difficulty was how to check up on the children to see who was doing it. Because I’m not a class teacher, I didn’t have access to Google Classrooms, so there was no way of keeping in touch with all the parents. Not only was it hard to monitor how many children were taking part, but also whether they were engaging in it enthusiastically and doing the exercises correctly.

“Sometimes you would get a video sent to you by a parent on social media and they were not really doing it properly. But you can’t really say anything because it’s just great that they are getting involved and, certainly to begin with, that was the priority.

“There is an expectation that parents help out with this sort of content. But it’s not every parent’s cup of tea and, with mums and dads working different hours and in different jobs, they may struggle to help deliver it or even understand it themselves. Which is why we had to make it quite basic to begin with.”

Exercising bodies and brains

Steven’s YouTube channel came on the radar of the North Yorkshire Sport and Yorkshire Sport Foundation Active Partnerships, who had created their own physically active learning initiative, #ThisIsPE, endorsed by the Department for Education.

Steven produced a video around agility for the hugely popular lockdown campaign, that enlisted the help of PE teachers from across the county to film two-minute videos featuring activities linked to the Primary PE curriculum that could be replicated by parents at home.

As his videos developed into something more like mini PE lessons, with educational content embedded in the activities, so Steven began to receive more and more enthusiastic feedback from parents, thrilled at seeing with their own eyes the benefits of exercising their children’s brains as well as their bodies.

Key to the success of Steven’s whole lockdown learning enterprise has been the ability to circulate videos and learning tips through his Twitter account, which he set up just a few months before the coronavirus outbreak as a way to find and share great coaching content.

Working in tandem with his schools, the first initiative they implemented was the hashtag #HealthySelfie back in February, as a way of engaging families during holiday times and spreading positive news about what was going on in the local community.

“I will retweet through my account, and the schools through theirs, those pictures posted by parents using the hashtag, as a way of showcasing what people can do to stay healthy and stay active.

In one of the schools I work in, we received hundreds of Tweets in the first week alone. It was quite incredible really. And this has carried on right through lockdown and beyond.”

A quick surf of Steven’s Twitter feed shows children engaged in a wide variety of healthy pursuits, from walking the dog and family visits to the park, to attending football camps, swimming in the sea and a video of a birthday trip to the driving range to break in some shiny new golf clubs.

Time to hand out the medals

According to Steven, the biggest success story during coronavirus has been the two Virtual Olympic Sports Weeks he organised for his schools, which replaced the traditional summer sports day that had to be cancelled this year due to school closures and social distancing.

Schools across the country fully embraced the National School Sport Week At Home initiative, engaging in a series of virtual sporting challenges intended to “capture the enjoyment, competition and camaraderie” of one of the most enjoyable and inclusive days in the school calendar.

As the Level 2 Competitions Organiser for the Selby Primary School Sports Cluster – which comprises 13 primary schools from around the Selby District area – Steven was an obvious choice as lead organiser.

Classes could choose from six nations – Finland, Samoa, Peru, Cameroon, Japan or the Bahamas – and competed against other classes across five days and five activities: target throw, shuttle runs, vertical wall jump, jumping combination and standing long jump. 

Children had all day to complete the activities and record their scores, earning points for their team, with medals up for grabs for the best performing ‘countries’.

To get pupils into the Olympic spirit, parents and teachers worked with them to:

  • make their own national flags
  • design and create their own Olympic kit and Olympic medals 
  • research their country of choice and create a fact-file
  • choose their greatest Olympian and write a biography about them
  • devise healthy meal plans
  • make up their own Olympic team rules and Olympic values.

“It was so successful we put on a second Sports Week. It received a lot of engagement and a lot of positive feedback, which was great to hear,” says Steven, who, according to many on social media, deserved a gold medal himself for his own performance in whipping up children and parents’ enthusiasm.

Thank you @MrJeff85 for a second wonderful Virtual Sports Week,” wrote Staynor Hall Year 3 teacher Miss Spark. “Our children are very lucky to have you smashing it out of the park time after time to keep them active.”

And so, in the years to come, when today’s young generation reminisce about their formative years growing up in the era of Covid-19, those memories of Virtual Sports Days, #HealthySelfies and fun challenges filmed and shared on YouTube will still be vivid, and will hopefully crowd out the less positive memories.

Because one thing we should never forget is that fitness and play go hand-in-hand, exerting a tremendous power to create priceless moments and lifelong memories. 

So, while science will, fingers crossed, ensure Covid-19 does not stand the test of time, Mr Jeff certainly will.

 

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UK Coaching Team