We are coming to the end of the first week of Wimbledon, one of our great British institutions of summer sport, and I wanted to acknowledge the power that sport has to inspire children.
One of the best recent examples of this is Emma Raducanu and the universal admiration that she inspired last year when she became the youngest British woman to win a Grand Slam aged only 18. I’m disappointed to see her knocked out of Wimbledon earlier than I hoped this year, but she remains a shining example to so many British children of what they can achieve if they set their ambitions high. As one little girl expressed in The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of children that I conducted last year:
“What [I’m going to] achieve when I grow up is that the best thing is being the tennis champion player in Wimbledon [sic].” – Girl, aged 9.
Sport is one of the earliest opportunities many children have to set goals, build their skills, and increase their confidence on their own terms. A huge part of this is finding positive role models, either among professional sportspeople or a little closer to home.
“It would to be a tennis player because I like tennis so I can become good as my dad.” – Boy, aged 8.
For lots of young people, sportspeople are some of the most visible and relatable role models in successful careers. This helps many children to start to think about their future place in the world of work and to set their ambitions high.
“I would be a football player or a tennis player [because they] are my favorite [sic].” – Girl, aged 9.
“I want to be a professional tennis player or an engineer. :-d.” – Boy, aged 11.
That’s not to say that there aren’t barriers to getting children involved in sport. Far too many children, particularly girls, are put off sport due to a lack of inclusivity. One of my priorities is to address these barriers that stop children from finding belonging in sport.
“Sexism, I am a girl and I’m scared to do a lot of things by myself as I’ve been catcalled by strange old men and followed. Also equal pay. My dream is to be a tennis player or footballer but I know that if I were one, I’d have to have another job as well. This is because there isn’t an equal pay between male and female because male get payed more [sic].” – Girl, aged 13.
“Getting negativity from other people, for instance, you might want to be a professional tennis player and people might say “You’re rubbish at tennis” or “Why would you want to be a tennis player?” in a mean way. People need encouragement to achieve what they want to achieve.” – Boy, aged 11.
“People telling us what we shouldn’t do because of there gender as in my school people always told boys to be rough so now some of us girls hate p.e and the tennis courts for fear we would get injured or hit in the face with a ball [sic].” – Girl, aged 10.
As well as watching another fantastic week of Wimbledon, I hope all children are inspired to play actively this summer and find a sport that is right for them.
For children who love tennis and are aiming to be the next Wimbledon champion – find out about the Lawn Tennis Association’s Youth programme.
For children who want to get involved in sport over the summer holidays, you can find out what Holiday Activities and Food Fund activities your local authority has planned – find your local authority here.
There are many great charities like the Youth Sport Trust, who are helping young people get involved in sport, both in and out of school – find out about their work here.