Sport for LIFE

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Sport for LIFE is a 12 week physical activity and health program designed for 8-9 year old children. The program received two London 2012 Inspire Awards and was shortlisted by the World Health Organisation as a best practice case study in promoting physical activity to marginalised groups. The purpose of the program is to highlight the social, physical and psychological benefits of participating in sport and physical activity. It was delivered to 2645 children at greatest disadvantage in Northern Ireland by a team of 110 student volunteers in partnership with professional teachers. Sport for LIFE resulted in pupils increasing their light, moderate and vigorous physical activity levels, reducing sedentary behaviour and reducing their intake of non-core foods. It improved the employability skills of student volunteers, teacher’s knowledge of physical activity for children and over 200 trainee teachers completed a Teacher Training program thereby ensuring a legacy for Sport for LIFE.

Sport for LIFE (SFL) is a 12 week physical activity and health programme designed for 8-9 year old children in areas of greatest disadvantage in Northern Ireland. It was designed by academics in the Ulster Sports Academy in partnership with Education and Library Board professionals. The goals of the programme were to:

1. increase knowledge and awareness of the benefits of participation in sport, physical activity and healthy eating in schoolchildren aged 8-9 years from the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas of Northern Ireland

2. develop knowledge and expertise of undergraduate sports students who are aspiring physical education teachers, elementary teachers and sports coaches

3. transfer university expertise and knowledge in sport and physical activity to elementary school teachers through program delivery and the development of educational resources

The University of Ulster recognises the need to proactively address the marginalisation of those at greatest disadvantage from higher education. It has a strong reputation for successful widening access and participation activities using sport and considers itself an important contributor to the social and economic regeneration of the regional community . The need for SFL was supported by research commissioned by Fit Futures (DHSSPS, 2005), which found that levels of obesity in children in Northern Ireland are on the increase with one in five boys and one in four girls entering primary schools being overweight or obese. Cale and Harris (2007) reported that school based programmes that combine both health promotion and physical activity have been successful in addressing physical activity and dietary behaviours. It was against this backdrop that Ulster decided to design with relevant public partners a cross curricular physical activity program for children at greatest disadvantage.

The intervention was evaluated by means of surveys for pupils, teachers and student volunteers, pre and post intervention. A representative sample of pupils were asked to complete a questionnaire to determine pupils’ knowledge of the benefits of physical activity and health, their self esteem levels, the type and level of activity they do and their knowledge of nutrition. The questionnaire was administered to an intervention and control group pre and post the SFL programme. A sub section of the intervention and control group were asked to wear accelerometers for one week. The accelerometer assessed the intensity of pupils' physical activity pre and post the intervention and investigated whether there were any significant changes in physical activity as a result of the programme.

The SFL intervention resulted in an increase in light, moderate and vigorous physical activity levels, a reduction in sedentary behaviour and a reduction in the intake of non-core foods in the pupil intervention group (see Breslin, Brennan, Rafferty, Gallagher & Hanna, 2012). The research also found an increase in PE knowledge, confidence in teaching and employability skills of the student volunteers as well as improvements in professional teacher’s knowledge of new ideas for the promotion of physical activity for children. The SFL Legacy program trained over 200 trainee teachers from teacher training institutions in Northern Ireland to deliver SFL.

The impact of the programme has been disseminated in workshops, research seminars, academic conference presentations and abstracts, peer reviewed articles in high impact factor health journals, newsletters and media releases.

Sport for LIFE is a pioneering cross-curricular physical activity and health programme, focusing on learning to move and learning through movement. Inspired by the London 2012 Olympic Games the University chose to use a family of Elks (the Sport mascot of the University), all with different personalities and interests as an original and creative stimulus for children’s learning ( We adopted an innovative interagency approach to planning, delivery, monitoring and evaluation by involving professionals from Education and Library Boards, school teachers, the Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Insititute, the Biomedical Sciences Research Institute, the Ulster Sports Academy and the School of Education.

Engagement with our public partners from program inception to completion facilitated equitable gains for all partners. University staff were able to design a program to meet a public need and research its impact on children's health, teacher training and student volunteers. Schools received new and innovative curriculum resources and young enthusiastic role models to assist in delivery. Student volunteers received high quality work experience with professional teachers with 91 of the volunteers being awarded the Volunteer Now Goldmark Award for Excellence. School Principals, year 5 classroom teachers, student volunteers and pupils all participated in measuring the impact of the SFL programme. Few interventions to date targeted marginalised groups of children to increase physical activity. SFL was one of the first to do this, evident in a best practice peer reviewed article outlining the design of the programme for other professionals to replicate (see Breslin & Brennan, 2012).

The SFL and SFL Legacy programs were designed with sustainability and legacy in mind. Sustainability has been ensured through the development of a SFL website ( for parents, teachers and pupils. The teacher section includes the provision of a comprehensive ‘Teaching Resource’ including lesson plans, teaching notes and a copy of the SFL Achievement Award Certificate. The website also includes 12 worksheets for pupils to support extended learning in the classroom or at home.

The SFL website is available to all schools in Northern Ireland. The SFL programme is now a ‘stand alone’ progamme offered to schools in Northern Ireland on an annual basis by USO student volunteers.

Year 3 of the SFL programme focused on 'legacy' offering a Teacher Training programme to all teacher training institutions in Northern Ireland. To date over 200 trainee teachers have successfully completed the training and are now prepared to deliver Sport for LIFE in schools.

SFLand the SFL Legacy programs have been recognised by the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games as excellent in inspiring participation in physical activity for health. Finally SFL has also been selected by the World Health Organisation as a best practice case study in the promotion of physical activities to marginalised groups.

1. Breslin, G., & Brennan, D. (2012). A healthy lifestyle intervention delivered by aspiring PE teachers to children from social disadvantage: study protocol and preliminary findings, Child Care and Practice.
2. Breslin, G., Brennan, D., Rafferty, R., Gallagher, A., & Hanna, D. (2012). The effect of a healthy lifestyle program on 8-9 year olds from social disadvantage. Archives of Disease in Childhood.
3. Cale, L & Harris, J (2007) Physical Education and childhood Obesity PE Matters. 2 (4) 10-14.



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