When Telegraph Women’s Sport launched its “Girls, Inspired” campaign a year ago, the aim was to help close the gender gap in sport in schools.
It revealed worrying reasons why girls feel disengaged with sport from a young age and told the stories of girls launching their own school initiatives to increase participation, and it also influenced government policy.
What our campaign did not bank on was that, 12 months on, girls would all be confined to their homes and gardens amid a pandemic.
Since schools were closed and the country essentially went into lockdown, the goalposts for this challenge of getting girls active – and even keeping boys active – have moved.
There are people stepping up to the challenge, though. Personal trainer Joe Wicks is one. Along with nearly 500,000 others, I am in my living room watching Wicks appear on my screen at 9am sharp.
But instead of beginning the workout along with them, I am captivated by the stream of comments appearing alongside the live video. Rosie, 11, from Solihull sends Wicks a message of encouragement with five rainbow emojis.
The Yrrah family from Zimbabwe are getting involved, too. Even girls in Perth, Australia, are taking part as their workout before dinner.
When Wicks announced to the country that he was going to become the “nation’s PE teacher” nearly two weeks ago, he was not banking on becoming the world’s PE teacher, with a total 23 million views since he began on March 23.
This is not a completely new role to him. For the past few years he has made children’s fitness a goal and last year went on a school tour around the country. Now the squat jumps, sit-ups and Spiderman lunges – complete with sound effects – he taught thousands at schools are helping give millions of children watching a morning routine as well as 30 minutes of activity every weekday.
Telegraph Women’s Sport reported last year that just eight per cent of secondary school girls get their recommended hour of activity a day. Though Wicks’s work with schools mostly focused on primary age groups, his workouts now are for all ages.
“In primary schools I had such a great response, I found that boys and girls were equally excited,” he says. “But I think that might change a bit as they become teenagers, as [girls] shift into a bit more self-conscious and exercise becomes less ‘cool’.”
In using the platforms kids and teenagers are on – YouTube, Instagram, TikTok – he is hoping to “disrupt” their scrolling to inspire them. He is also trying to keep them engaged by involving them in planning the workouts, the latest one inspired by Emilia Howard, aged 10.
Strictly Come Dancing performer Oti Mabuse has also been using children as the inspiration for her efforts to keep them active while at home.
Her dance lessons, broadcast live on her Facebook channel, use Disney themes such as Frozen and Mary Poppins to garner interest from young viewers cooped up at home. It is working as she has hundreds of thousands tuning in each day, dressing up according to her chosen theme.
Wicks is calling for schools to adopt mandatory fitness mornings once the lockdown ends, so all children get the benefits of the activity he is offering daily.
“My mission before all this was to try to make regular exercise – not games or sport – be on the curriculum,” Wicks says. “I want children to have 15 or 20 minutes at the start of the day. It will turn your child into a positive, optimistic, focused and energised little human being. That is what my goal is.
“This is as important as my kids sitting down and doing their times tables.”