How to make exercise and sport a more positive experience for children, with Darryl Walsh.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to visit a couple of secondary schools with my wife and son as we start to consider his transition from primary school. The schools were full of exciting learning opportunities for all. However, when I looked around the large school halls, memories came flooding back and I felt ‘at home’. At school, sport was my comfort blanket, the place where I was able to shine and feel confident in my abilities. This experience and these memories, of course, are not the same for everyone, with many people having a very poor relationship with exercise, recounting their experiences of school sport in a negative light. Teachers I have spoken with recently even talk of children entering their new Reception class already having a negative view of ‘sport’ and ‘exercise’. Something is clearly not right.

One of the driving forces behind the creation of our mentally healthy movement charity, was to reposition ‘movement’ in a different light and rid it of the ‘bad rap’ it has with so many. One of the charity’s guiding principles is, ‘we focus on valuing the experience and the process of movement rather than the outcome of performance’ – in other words, bringing the joy back into movement. The joy that often comes from play rather than organised sport or PE.

Joyful movement

For those of a certain age (and for a younger audience who have recently discovered it), they will recall with a smile, the running style of the character Phoebe, from the American sitcom ‘Friends’! Would a running coach tell her to move her arms and legs in a different way? You bet they would! But what matters here is the pure joy that comes from her running in this way. The character Rachel goes on to say, “I’m so sorry, you were right, this feels great”.

There is, of course, a right and proper place for the technical aspects of doing certain movements in certain sports correctly but, for many, too much emphasis on ‘doing it right’ is going to remove the joyful aspects of movement they got when they were young, playing Tag, Manhunt, Bulldog or simply clambering around the equipment at the local park.

We encourage schools to purposefully participate in movement and positively shape and support mental health for life – reducing the stigma about mental health by mainstreaming conversations on a regular basis. ‘Stormbreaks’ are 5 to15-minute fun and engaging movement activities and associated conversations around mental health built around five core concepts: resilience, selfcare, relationships, self-worth, hope and optimism. We work with trusted adults in schools to embed movement into their everyday practice; movements where the technicalities do not matter, where individuality in movement is encouraged and celebrated. One of its aims is to help children to build a lifelong positive relationship with movement, knowing that it can be used to support mental health, both now and in the future, and allow them to not be stuck in a place or a feeling, teaching them that they are able to take positive action towards changing how they feel. As adults, we return to movement, whether it be walking, gardening, running, swimming and begin to understand the importance of movement on our wellbeing. We are seeking to give children this knowledge from a much younger age.


  • Darryl Walsh

    Darryl is Director of School Operations at Stormbreak CIO. He has over 20 years of primary teaching experience including 5 years as a headteacher.

    View all posts