Former British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland
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Warren Gatland knows first hand just how important sport is for the mental and physical development and well-being of children.
The British and Irish Lions head coach says his own childhood days, which were dominated by endless hours playing rugby, cricket and swimming, defined his adulthood.
The former Wales head coach also made it a top priority for his own children, time and again refusing requests from his son Bryn, now a professional rugby player in New Zealand, to buy him a PlayStation, preferring instead to encourage him to go outside and play sport.
Yet it was his days early in his career as a primary school teacher in his own town of Hamilton in New Zealand that properly opened his eyes to the far-reaching benefits of exercise.
“Teaching is an incredibly rewarding job but it is tough,” said Gatland, who worked in several primary schools in Hamilton after studying teacher training at university.
“One of the things that I did was to take my class out every single day and we did some sort of games or physical activity.
“The children loved it and looked forward to it but I noticed what a benefit I got from it in terms of behaviour and attitude and focus in the classroom. It made it enjoyable. You need a balance and that involves getting out and having exercise.
“As a former teacher I understand it is a difficult job and we should be putting as many resources into it, trying to get the best people, pay them decent money and look at the long-term benefits of the kids being involved in sport.
“Some of the best sporting schools are also the best academic schools because they put a huge amount of emphasis around supporting their sporting programmes and as a result the pupils are fitter, more focused and concentrate longer and are able to apply themselves academically. Sport is incredibly important.”
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That passion still burns brightly for the 57-year-old, which is why he has reached out to support The Telegraph’s Keep Kids Active campaign.
Gatland is concerned that the impact of the national lockdown and its disruption to children’s sport and exercise could have long-term effects for this generation.
Gatland believes that Telegraph Sport’s five-point plan for action, including putting physical education on a par with core subjects when schools return, would have a significant impact.
“I fully endorse the Telegraph campaign,” Gatland said. “It is a great idea and what they are trying to do in terms of getting people to health and physical education is a great incentive, provided it is safe to do so.
“When I was teaching, PE was a core subject in New Zealand. It had the same standing as English, maths and science. Everyone had to participate several times a week as well as have a health session.
“It has a massive impact and makes a huge difference if you make physical education a core subject in schools.
“It is often just about organisation and passion. If sports are organised then the kids get involved in it. People have to show leadership to sell the idea about the importance of activity and sport. If you don’t do that, they will lose that motivation or will to do so.
“The desire to participate can fade away and it has been almost 12 months now and how long is it going to last? This could affect a generation for a long time and we have to make sure that we think about what is important.
“We are probably lucky enough in New Zealand that the weather makes a difference but there are lots of opportunities in the UK and people have put resources into facilities such as school grounds and halls for people to get out and be active.”
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Gatland, whose daughter Gabby was a keen netball player and swam and rowed at an elite schools level, said there was also a responsibility from parents as well to ensure children are not left behind because of the pandemic.
“When I was a boy, sport was something I used to look forward to so much, whether it was rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer,” Gatland added.
“We ran around school all day and then when we got home we went straight outdoors to play with my neighbours and at the weekends.
“As parents we have to encourage that. Every year I used to get a request from my son for a PlayStation. And every year I said no. I told him if he wanted to play it, he would have to go to his mate’s house.
“But because of that, there was a responsibility on me to take him outside and kick a ball around or practise catching or go to the park. We have all got a responsibility.
“I don’t care with kids about what sport they are playing or what interest it is, as long as they are doing something.”