Speakers: Tom Gibbons (Lawn Tennis Asscn; Thomas Munnelly and Isabelle Kennedy (Slimming World)
29th November 2017 – meeting notes
All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood
An evening with Tom Gibbons from the Lawn Tennis Association, and two teenage Slimming World members: Thomas Munnelly and Isabelle Kennedy
Chair: Baroness Benjamin
The 30th meeting of the APPG was opened by the chair, Baroness Benjamin, who thanked everyone for coming and introduced the speakers.
Tom Gibbons, the Lawn Tennis Association
Tom described the role of the LTA and the Tennis Foundation and gave some practical examples of projects.
The LTA is the national governing body for tennis. Its mission is to get more people playing but also to govern the sport. The Tennis Foundation is a separate charitable arm which aims to bring tennis to people from all walks of life: anyone from any background and any community, no matter what their age, shape or ability.
There is a joint strategy between the LTA and the Tennis Foundation to widen participation. In some ways the system is not broken: many young people play tennis already, but the ambitious target is to double the amount in the next 10 years.
There is also a shift away from the focus on tennis as sport towards it being a vehicle to make children happier and healthier.
An example of some of the programmes directed at children and young people are:
Tennis in Schools
The original programme has been running for 7 years and used to be very limited, focussed around selected schools and a few competitions. The investment has been quadrupled so that 22000 children have been reached over the last 7 years. One teacher from each school attends a tennis training workshop about how to deliver the specialist resources. The school is given an equipment pack and £500 to spend on resources. It has gone very well.
There is another schools programme which is deeper and more meaningful and delivered to selected schools (85 so far). £10,000 is supplied, together with a detailed action plan to embed tennis into different areas such as teaching & learning, leadership, community links, etc. Greenhouse Sports are a partner to deliver this and provide funding for tennis coaches.
Tennis for Kids is a legacy programme which was introduced after Great Britain won the Davis Cup in 2015.1000 coaches have been trained and 35,000 children have received a free racquet and 6 weeks of free tennis lessons. The focus now is on continuation following the free lessons – currently the rate is around 50% and there are big plans to improve that. In addition to the racquet, children now receive 3 balls and a T shirt so that they can play at home with their families.
Tennis for People with Disabilities
There are now 400 accessible venues for inclusive tennis. The most high-profile and well-established version is wheelchair tennis, but there is also deaf tennis and blind tennis, where the court has raised markings and the balls have bells.
The Social Impact Programme
Reaching 3000 children in the past year, this programme goes into non-traditional venues such as mosques and youth clubs to promote tennis. It is delivered through national partners by training local staff, and is accompanied by an off-court learning programme focussing on health and wellbeing.
Tennis for Families
For the past four years we have been running Tennis Weekends twice a year, and one of the aims is to challenge the stereotypes surrounding tennis. Last year we had 1092 venues and 52000 attendees. The programme is as much about continuing to play afterwards as joining in during the weekend events.
Isabelle Kennedy, Slimming World Member
Isabelle’s weight began to spiral out of control in her early teens. It was a difficult time at home and comfort eating and binge eating were Isabelle’s way of coping with the stress. By the time she was 14, she weighed 21 stone and this led to the diagnosis of a form of liver disease. In addition, she had mental health issues that she was unable to discuss as there was such a stigma around having such problems. She had reached a point where she struggled to get out of bed and found life extremely tough.
Joining Slimming World with her mother was a turning point. Isabelle has lost 10 stone and has just been told that she is now completely free of the liver disease. She now wants to help other young people who are facing the same kind of problems.
Thomas Munnelly, Slimming World Member
A recent achievement of Thomas was running the Birmingham half marathon and raising more than £1000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. He couldn’t have done it before because he was too overweight at 3 stone heavier than he currently is. Thomas explained that he wasn’t unhappy, but he found life a struggle because of his weight. He avoided sport and exercise and ate extensively at break times, lunch times and after school. As a result his weight gain accelerated during secondary school.
Two things happened to change his life. One was discovering basketball, which he enjoyed more than the other sports on offer at his school, and the other was joining Slimming World. At 3 stone lighter, he is also now able to indulge in his new passion, running.
Thomas’s message was “slow and steady wins the race”, and he explained how this also applies to beating the child obesity crisis. It cannot happen overnight but we need to keep fighting. It is important to tailor exercise and sport to children’s preferences, and to start from a very young age.
Questions and Comments
Baroness Benjamin: a question for Tom Gibbons: how would you introduce tennis to young people like Thomas and Isabelle, as they were before their weight losses?
Tom Gibbons, LTA: We have just appointed a new women’s and girls’ officer to encourage more girls into the sport, but the main way of accessing new players is to introduce modified forms of the game, e.g. using smaller courts like badminton courts, and using smaller racquets and softer balls. This avoids new players being put off by the full version of the game before they have developed some knowledge of it, and allows them to progress when they are ready.
Baroness Benjamin: Do you target fit and healthy children or overweight children?
Tom Gibbons, LTA: 15 mentors have been trained to go into schools to work with pupils that have been identified by teachers. The mentors visit three times a year and make a plan with the mentees.
Thomas Munnelly: If the opportunities are there then people can make a choice.
Isabelle Kennedy: Yes, half the problem is having the opportunity to be able to make the decision.
Tom Gibbons, LTA: We believe in a broad range of sports, not just tennis, although for obvious reasons the 6 week introduction to tennis is where our focus is. We face a lot of perception issues around the image of tennis being a sport for white middle class people. We are doing a lot with local authorities to challenge this.
Charlotte Davis, Fit2Learn: The LTA don’t understand child development. Even a champion like Andy Murray has problems with depth perception and sound processing, and I know from personal experience that many professionals can’t identify visual and motor skills problems. What is the LTA going to do about this?
Tom Gibbons, LTA: We are launching a new performance strategy on 8th January 2018.
Charlotte Davis, Fit2Learn: And sound processing? If you don’t do anything about this we’ll be miles behind Russia and Poland.
Tom Gibbons, LTA: Our new performance expert is not actually a tennis expert but a performance expert.
Matthew Roberts, MSR: You mentioned doubling the number of young people playing tennis. What does this mean in numerical terms?
Tom Gibbons, LTA: There are currently 140,000 young members of tennis clubs, so that’s the measure.
Matthew Roberts, MSR: (to Thomas) You mentioned getting interested in basketball because a new teacher joined your school. Was it the teacher or the sport which was the inspiration?
Thomas Munnelly: It was the sport. I’ve left school now but I still play. The message is to find your groove: find and do what suits you as an individual.
Baroness Benjamin: (to Isabelle) Have you found a sport that you like to do?
Isabelle Kennedy: I like to run with my Labrador.
Kathryn Peckham: The support to primary schools includes £500 for resources. What do you do?
Tom Gibbons, LTA: The resource is based on small space tennis, and was inspired by my mother, who was a primary school teacher. It begins with movement only, leading to tennis later with mini racquets, sponge balls, colourful tactile equipment etc.
Kathryn Peckham: Is there any way of finding out what problems children might be facing when they start?
Tom Gibbons, LTA: We don’t directly deliver the programme: we train the teachers, for example on differentiation points. We also work with the Preschool Learning Alliance in early years settings.
Kathryn Peckham: (to Isabelle and Tom) Did you have much outdoor activity when you were younger?
Thomas Munnelly: I played enthusiastically in the school playground but, ironically, one dinner lady in particular rewarded good performance with sweets! I don’t think that was very appropriate.
Isabelle Kennedy: I was outside a lot as a young child but once my weight began to pile on my physical activity reduced. It wasn’t until I worked on the psychological aspects that my activity went up again.
Student from University of Northampton: There are often low-level behaviour problems in PE sessions, sometimes as a result of bravado and young people not thinking it is cool to be too enthusiastic. How do you tackle that?
Charlotte Davis, Fit2Learn: We need to do work on primitive reflexes that have never been properly resolved. Often children who wriggle and fidget do so because they haven’t overcome one of the primitive reflexes.
Tom Gibbons, LTA: We do train coaches to deal with behaviour issues but it’s very low level as the training session is only 3 hours long. We find that coaches get better at handling situations through experience.
Thomas Munnelly: I would have been one of the misbehaving ones because I wasn’t enjoying it.
Baroness Benjamin: You should try all sports: you’re missing out if you don’t.
Sharon Smith, University of Northampton: You’ve got lots of different programmes. How do you evaluate success and how do you measure the health benefits?
Tom Gibbons, LTA: I will pass this question to my colleague Sam as the programmes are all evaluated in different ways.
Sam Gould, LTA: There’s a team working on this. We mainly do it through Sport England. The funding criteria has changed and funding is now linked to social wellbeing outcomes. It’s early days and we are still developing the metrics. It is difficult to prove that certain outcomes (e.g. improved health) are as a direct result of playing tennis as there could be many other factors involved.
Sharon Smith, University of Northampton: (to Thomas and Isabelle) What sort of sport did you have at school?
Isabelle Kennedy: In terms of activity we had PE but no tennis club or anything like that. I wouldn’t have gone but at least there would have been the opportunity.
I was under Kings College Hospital and I now work with the professionals there to help other young people. I could have done with help on the mental health side, because while the professionals were looking at how I’d gained weight, no one was investigating why.
Baroness Benjamin: What did drive you? Was it a cry for help?
Isabelle Kennedy: It was a coping mechanism. I dealt with things by eating for comfort.
Baroness Benjamin: How can you help a child if they feel that this is the only way of coping?
Isabelle Kennedy: You need to look at why, and allow them to speak about it.
Baroness Benjamin: Yes, finding the right person to talk to is important. Could you talk to your parents?
Isabelle Kennedy: Yes, but distance is better. I didn’t want my family to think that it was their fault.
Baroness Benjamin: Who would be the best type of person to make sure children don’t start gaining weight?
Isabelle Kennedy: Someone in school or at a GP practice would be best.
Thomas Munnelly: It was at school that I started gaining weight. My home environment was in fact very healthy, but canteen food isn’t good. I’ve been on the school council and tried to change it, and we have found that although there is sometimes some early success the standards often slip because the suppliers need to make a profit. I believe we need proper nutritional standards in every school.
Kathryn Sexton, Juka Dance: As an ex-PE teacher in a secondary school, I know that girls at secondary level can be a problem. They are facing lots of changes and then tend to withdraw and not want to be competitive. Girls struggle more than boys. Is there a social side to your schools programme? If the target is to raise participation can you include social aspects?
Tom Gibbons, LTA: It’s not just about tennis; we aim to develop leadership skills and other things. Over the years there’s been a lot of investment into primary school PE but secondary school PE is diminishing and we’ve got to look at how we do this before it disappears completely.
Sam Gould, LTA: There’s a partnership with Judy Murray trying to tackle the problem of teenage girls. The programme takes the focus away from competitiveness.
Thomas Munnelly: Exercise is important, but it’s only part of the story. You can exercise all you like but if the diet isn’t right you won’t get anywhere. It’s 30% exercise and 70% diet.
Catherine Lippe: (to Thomas and Isabelle) You both joined Slimming World. What was effective about Slimming World?
Thomas Munnelly: SW adapts recipes of takeaways and popular dishes, making them into healthier versions. It’s a lifestyle change, not a diet. You don’t feel like you’re on a diet.
Isabelle Kennedy: I’ve just done A level nutrition and I agree with Thomas. Every Tuesday I go to group to maintain my weight. The support of the group has been fundamental to my success. Everyone was very welcoming. The nutrition message is quite simple: one third of each plate should be protein, one third carbs, one third vegetables or salad. It’s easy to follow and fits easily into a family lifestyle.
Baroness Benjamin: What positive message would you like to send out for what should be done in the next five years?
Tom Gibbons, LTA: We should focus on schools, and there should be more accountability of funding in schools – how to spend the money, etc. And secondary schools PE is in trouble so we need to do something.
Thomas Munnelly: Slow and steady wins the race. Carry on making little changes to make a difference. This won’t go away overnight.
Isabelle Kennedy: Keep doing what we’re doing – keep fighting. I want to make a difference.
The meeting closed at 19.10