Risk and resilience

Risk-taking sports are key to children’s development, says Emma Gray, head at St Margaret’s Junior School in Hertfordshire

The variety of sports we offer in schools today is ever-evolving and continues to be a subject of debate. Do we stick with more traditional sports such as football, netball, rugby and cricket, or do we branch out into other more diverse sports that challenge the status quo?

One of the things independent schools pride themselves on is their range of extra-curricular activities, and this is usually where the more diverse sports are explored. It’s common to see sports such as fencing, archery, table tennis and dodgeball on the after-school club calendar.

But what of the current sporting curriculum? Do schools need to reconsider their focus and in some cases, whether a more risk-tolerant approach is valid?

Engaging in sports that require an element of risk-taking or greater physical challenge could indeed support some key development skills such as resilience, spirit, courage and endurance.

More recently at my school we have embraced upcoming school sports such as skateboarding and climbing. Seeing the impact of skateboarding on our young people first-hand has been an interesting one.

Skateboarding itself was introduced into the Olympics in 2021 and some of the inspirational young British skaters like Sky Brown are great role models for children in building strength and resilience in a risk sport.

A pupil trying skateboarding tricks


Shrinking worlds

The ongoing pandemic has also led to the need for a post-Covid curriculum, one which learns from the past couple of years and takes positive steps in terms of the learning opportunities we provide in school. Throughout the pandemic children’s worlds have shrunk, they have lost confidence in many subjects and sports, and yet risk-taking activities are key to their development.

Based on recent experience, skateboarding has really empowered children to take calculated risks in a structured way, in order to build confidence, self-esteem and make progress in a short space of time.

This has been wonderful to see, but what is perhaps more encouraging is to witness the progress of those children who had previously not found a sport or activity that inspired them but have since found that in trying new sports like skateboarding, mountain biking and climbing. The skills and passion they are developing right now could well be taken into their adult life.

Risk can be associated with negativity or even fear, but with the right support children can be nurtured to feel confident in taking chances and embracing new opportunities. For example, this could start with reaching a higher position on a climbing frame, to putting their hand out to pet a farm animal.

The sense of achievement children feel once they have completed a task builds self-efficacy, trust and conviction in their abilities, which are key for a child’s emotional development as is the belief in themselves.

Practising persistence

There are so many skills to be learned through risk-tolerant sports. Skateboarding and climbing can help develop gross motor skills, balance and coordination, which in turn even helps fine motor skills like handwriting and other key life skills.

Other skills such as listening to a coach, taking the plunge and trying something new, and learning the art of practice are extremely valuable lessons for children.

Our digital word is centred on immediacy with anything we could want available in hours and at our fingertips, yet a skill such as playing a musical instrument, learning a new hobby or activity takes time to master, and children today are not used to practising that level of persistence.

As with any element of risk, there is, of course, the potential for injury and that is understandably worrying for families and schools. Engaging in risk activities requires a sense of balance to ensure a safe environment where children can grow and develop in a way that they don’t grow up to be risk averse.

When children are young it is important to let them experience many different opportunities and risk is something that all children need an element of exposure to. It is often the case that the most well-rounded and resilient children are those that also participate in many different activities. They often don’t need the personal affirmation of social media, because they get this through sport and activities.

Encouraging children to have a hobby that they could potentially continue with into their adult life will also help them to navigate friendships when they move to new areas, meet new people and learn to manage their own personal down time away from work, which is becoming vital with the rising numbers experiencing ‘burn out’ later in life.

You might also like: ‘Self-confidence, agency and risk-taking have taken a hit’

Leave a Reply

Send an Invite...

Would you like to share this event with your friends and colleagues?

Would you like to share this report with your friends and colleagues?

You may enter up to three email addresses below to share this report