When thinking about sports and physical education, archery may not be one of the first activities to spring to mind, but its many benefits, naturally socially distant set up and ability to engage pupils of all sporting abilities could see a resurgence in the popularity of the sport – particularly when it comes to education and student wellbeing.
The effects the pandemic has had on children’s education, mental wellbeing and physical activity, along with how teachers plan and lead lessons has been well documented. With pupils now back in schools, it is more important than ever to create lessons that re-engage minds, elevate mental health and support physical activity for all.
The importance of mental wellbeing for students post-pandemic
The physical benefits of sports, such as improved strength and stamina are well known but the mental wellbeing aspects are equally important, particularly when it comes to supporting pupils who have been isolated for a number of months. Improving concentration and control, enhancing dexterity, promoting focus and, perhaps most importantly, boosting self-confidence are all mental health benefits associated with archery that can easily be tapped into by schools to support students during this challenging time for both students and teachers.
As well as being a physical activity on its own, archery can be adapted to create a fun, engaging activity that supports learning in other subjects, particularly aspects of maths, history and science. With the right lesson plans, (soft) archery equipment and support from organisations such as Archery GB, it can be simple and straightforward to bring the benefits of the sport into a variety of different lesson plans.
A sport that is not necessarily survival of the fittest
When it comes to sports, physical abilities can create barriers of engagement for children, particularly for those that feel they do not have the speed or strength that is traditionally seen as necessary to be successful at sports. The different nature of archery helps break down these barriers, creating a competitive or non-competitive sporting activity that is accessible and inclusive for all, including those who might have previously shied away from sport at school.
The flexibility and inclusivity of archery also extends to incorporate participation from many children with a range of disabilities across the spectrum. It is one of the few sports in which non-disabled and disabled participants as well as widely different ages can compete against each other on the same level, making it one of the most inclusive sports.
Right for the time
With social distancing now built into our psyche – a measure that is likely to continue for the foreseeable months ahead – finding engaging physical activities that are appropriate for the time can be challenging. Archery though, by its very nature, relies on social distancing for safety at all times and, with it taking place both outdoors and indoors, it innately adheres to relevant guidelines without impacting on the enjoyment of the sport – making it a perfect activity for Covid times.
Of course, with a variety of imperative safety aspects and equipment elements to consider, bringing archery into schools may seem like a challenge in itself for educators but there are a variety of different ways to do this.
Child-friendly and straightforward
Soft archery kits and schemes such as Archery GB’s Arrows Programme, provide primary schools with child-friendly equipment, lesson plans and ideas of activities to engage children and create an enjoyable sporting experience.
Local archery clubs and Archery GB instructors can help provide taster sessions or beginners courses for students in safe environments, while appropriate outdoor educational centres can incorporate archery into away days or school residentials.
Much needed support for underprivileged areas and local community initiatives, such as Project Rimaya – a SportsAid funded initiative which looks to increase archery participation within Muslim communities – can also be a great way for schools to help introduce students to archery and experience its benefits in an inclusive way.
A renewed focus in an Olympic year
While perhaps considered a non-traditional sport, archery is well established within the Olympics and Paralympics, and is currently enjoyed by over 5,500 under 18s who participate in the sport in the UK. It is also part of the School Games funded by Sports England National Lottery and in the 2018/2019 academic year (the latest for which data is available), 145 archery school competitions took place, involving 8,902 inter-school participants and 1,290 inter-school archery teams.
To support schools and help extend the sport’s reach to younger audiences, Archery GB is working hard to provide resources, advice and guidance that enhances accessibility and awareness of the sport’s benefits within education and helps schools to incorporate the activity into their lessons, programmes and clubs.
In discussing how archery can fit within the curriculum at schools, Neil Armitage, CEO of Archery GB said: “We strongly believe that sport has a big role to play in improving the mental and physical health of all of us as we exit lockdown. In particular archery can reach children who might otherwise not take part in any physical activity at all and bring diversity and a new interest to the classroom.
“Archery GB aims to support inclusive participation in sport for all abilities and our goal is to give children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds the opportunity to try archery and reap its benefits, whether this is through their school or at a local club.”
Keeping safety front of mind
Although some schools may be concerned about introducing archery to young children, there are ways to do so that are simple, easy and most importantly safe for all, for example, soft archery and associated lesson plans or working with Archery GB instructors and clubs.
Case study: Whitgift School
One school that has been shown to incorporate archery into its activities is Whitgift School in South Croydon.
Since its inception in 2014, Whitgift School’s archery club has gone from strength to strength. An integral part of the sports department offering, it is well regarded for its mental wellbeing benefits and inclusivity.
Stuart Litchfield, director of sport at Whitgift School, says: “As a school we want to offer students as many activities as possible – no two boys are the same and it is our goal to help them find their passion, an activity they will continue throughout life.
“We see a variety of different students taking an interest in archery, and the sport really brings out their personality. Beginner sessions are particularly popular – when given the opportunity to shoot at a target with a bow and arrow, what 12-year-old wouldn’t want to do that? About 40 students attend the beginner sessions with around 10 of these going on to join the club.”
“Children these days live stressful lives, particularly under the pressures of constant achievement. Outlets like archery that foster focus and mindfulness are key to supporting student wellbeing. We very much recognise the mental benefits of archery and those students heavily involved say the enjoyment comes from the process of bettering themselves, the different mental process and the mindfulness built into archery.”
The creation and continuation of the archery club have been led by Stuart, while the twice-weekly sessions are led by coach Rafal Radosz, who is instrumental in driving the programme.
Looking to the future, Whitgift School hopes to maximise its archery offering and affiliated club status by inviting other local schools to get involved, and creating its own competitive team.
Archery GB is running a competition to win a soft archery kit that will help a primary school introduce the sport to children. For information on Archery GB’s Arrows programme and the competition, please visit www.archerygb.org/clubs-facilities-development/education/arrows/