The Olympics — inspiring a generation

Can it really be four years since Danny Boyle’s superb opening ceremony for London 2012? Widely considered to be a resounding success, Boyle had been keen to emphasise the London 2012 theme, “inspire a generation” in his extravaganza that kicked off the Olympics that year.

The extent to which London 2012 did inspire a generation is, naturally, up for debate. With Rio 2016 kicking off today, it’s easy to get swept up into the energy and enthusiasm that the Olympics generate. Sure, we can’t all be Olympic athletes, but there’s nothing to stop us trying out new sports. And there’s no doubt that the more we move and participate in exercise, the healthier we will be.

Starting young

According to NHS Choices, moderate exercise is the ‘miracle cure’ we all need. It can reduce the risk of developing illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes and cancer; not to mention that it makes us feel better. Put a little effort in and some of the benefits are instantly available to us.

One who understands this reality more than many is Francesca Laughton, responsible for business development at Sports for Schools, which organises visits to schools by Olympic or GB International athletes. She explains that, ‘Physical activity is a vital component of a successful life: as important as academic success. The World Health Organisation recommends that school-aged children (up to the age of 17) should do an absolute minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day – that means to break a sweat.’

We need to ensure that children become active as young as possible. As Francesca explains, physical activity can really help to set children off on a path to living a healthy and successful life. ‘Our way of doing our bit is to bring GB/Olympic athlete role models into primary schools to motivate children and their teachers to lead a healthy life…Our amazing athletes and para-athletes visit schools to inspire, challenge and excite the children through their stories of grit and determination, and engage with them by making fitness fun.’

The key here is using our experiences as motivation rather than excuses — not always easy but if we want to glean the benefits of exercise. The bottom line? We have to power through when we feel tired or demotivated. If we can do that for ourselves, and help children do that too, exercise can have a profound impact.

Transforming lives

Speak to any successful athlete and you’ll hear stories of perseverance, grit and determination that are invariably inspiring. When children (or adults) are filled with ‘I can’t’ attitudes and manage to break free of them, real change can happen.

‘Every elite athlete has a story to tell in which they have turned a setback into a success: “I can’t” became “I can”,’ says Francesca. ‘During SFS events, children encourage each other to complete the circuits, cheering along to music. No one is left behind – the circuits are completed and enjoyed by each and every child regardless of physical ability. The athlete will summarise this great effort in their motivational assembly, highlighting that much success in life is a result of hard work and teamwork.’

Creating lasting change

If we want lasting change in our lives, we need to be inspired and motivated. While organisations such as Sport for Schools are doing their bit to ensure children have access to the biggest achievers, the rest of us need to seek out our inspiration wherever we can. Considering the very real benefits to be had from enjoying exercise, whether that’s a solitary jog round the park or a team sport with friends (or colleagues), we can’t afford not to move more. And maybe, just maybe, Rio 2016 will be just the inspiration we need to try something new!

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