BACKGROUND TO YOGYM for schools
A holistic approach to Primary School Gymnastics.
Ten years ago after a twenty-year break from competitive International gymnastics, I returned to the sport as a qualified coach. My first job was as Community Gymnastic Coach, a job funded by the Sports Council, with the remit to provide gymnastic coaching to at least a hundred children per week who would not have normally had the chance to participate in a gymnastic lesson.
Coming from a background of high-level gymnastics, I expected this to be an easy objective. Unfortunately the levels of discipline, motivation and physical literacy present in the primary school children were not sufficient to conduct a gymnastic lesson, as I knew it. In a gymnastic club, with all its apparatus etc., recreational gymnastics is relatively easy to teach. However, a school hall with a few benches and some antiquated wall bars, was quite a different matter.
It was soon obvious to me that, in order to make the lessons sustainable and progressive, it was essential to instill the high levels of discipline that I had learned, even in the most basic skills such as standing still, before the most rudimentary gymnastic skills could safely be taught to a group of 30 primary school children.
In 2008, due to a crisis in my personal life, a friend took me to a yoga class. I was absolutely amazed. Every single exercise practiced in the class had been taught to me as a young gymnast by my coach, the late Mrs. Pauline Prestidge MBE, as warm-up exercises and preparatory exercises for my gymnastic training. Pauline was known at the time to be one of the few advocates of mat work and preparation. The only aspect of yoga class that was new to me was the breathing exercises. What surprised me the most was the impact that the yoga classes had on the way I felt afterwards. My state of mind improved and became more stable; I felt calmer and began to sleep better. So intrigued was I that, in 2010, I embarked on a 3 year British Wheel of Yoga teacher training course.
At this point, I was becoming frustrated with teaching gymnastics in the Primary Schools. No matter what I tried to implement in the classes, it just didn’t seem work and the classes didn’t seem to be progressing. In fact I was on the point of giving up. Then it occurred to me that the physical postures of yoga resembled slow motion gymnastics, with many added benefits, and it became obvious to me that this approach was needed within the Primary School gymnastic lessons I was giving.
The first change I implemented was to slow my gymnastic lessons down, to teach correct alignment during warm-up and insist on it throughout the lessons. This made the whole physical lesson so much more inclusive for all children. Every child could do everything to a certain degree. Then I introduced the breathing practices at the start of the lesson and included a short relaxation at the end. When I came to teach the same children again the following year, I was amazed to see the progress the children had made not just physically but also mentally, in terms of improved focus and concentration. They had embraced, remembered and enjoyed their previous lessons. Teachers started telling me that this was also being translated into the classroom environment.
The results I was seeing led me to carry out six year Case Study research into 3 primary schools using a Yogym intervention. Details this work can be seen the ‘The impact Factor’ report from Active Cumbria.
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