Our ‘Panathlon People’ podcast has so far included chats with teachers, inspiring young leaders and para-athlete role models, who have all given their perspectives on what Panathlon means to them.
The podcast’s ebullient host, Dom Fenton, has focused in on several themes in the first 11 episodes, with each guest opening up about the impact they’ve witnessed Panathlon having on SEND pupils, particularly since our delivery went ‘virtual’ due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Here’s what our podcast guests so far had to say around some of the key themes of Panathlon.
IMPACT IN SCHOOLS
Emma Monaghan, Head Teacher at Gillas Lane Primary Academy in Sunderland, was our first guest. She told us: “Virtual Panathlon has revitalised what we do in PE. Sport and PE is a key part of the children achieving and living a fulfilled life. We need to give them opportunities to find out what they’re good at, and this does exactly that.
“Panathlon has given our SEND pupils the chance to lead and train our mainstream children in Panathlon games – and often, they’re beating them hands down! It generates a mutual respect between children and creates a real harmony across the school.”
David Ball, Movement Coordinator at Kingsdown School in Essex, added: “It’s given a new buzz to the school. Teachers can see that it’s easy to teach PE. It’s all there on the Virtual Panathlon YouTube videos and session plans. It’s got such a smooth movement through the activities and there’s adaptations throughout. It also meets all their targets in a fun, engaging way.
“With the virtual games you don’t even need the equipment when you can play new-age kurling at home with Pringles tubes and tin cans. Seeing their faces when they’ve received their medals and achieved something at the end of this term [through lockdown] has been absolutely amazing. It’s kept our curriculum going over this hard time.
Gill Newlyn, Youth Sport Trust’s Inclusion Lead for Essex, said: “[The pandemic] was a difficult time for schools – we were bombarded. But Panathlon was so clear, so precise and easy to follow, and the children’s reaction was just amazing. I got some fantastic feedback from schools who were soon asking for more.
“There’s a danger when sending activities home for them not to be differentiated. This was fabulous because the pictures, demonstrations and videos were so clear that every child could take part, no matter what their ability.”
Melanie Burrough, Head of Therapy at The Children’s Trust School, reflected: “Our children have very complex needs and disabilities, and one of the things that struck us immediately is that Panathlon was able to offer our children an element of competition and challenge. We had a medal ceremony at the end and it really gave us a sense of community and celebration. It feels like a special day.”
Mina Kaur, Teacher of the Deaf in Darlington, reflected that Panathlon had helped reduce the sense of isolation that deaf and hearing-impaired pupils can suffer from due to their communication difficulties.
“With the pandemic, we’ve seen children’s social and emotional wellbeing really affected, they’ve been by themselves, isolated for a really long time, so it’s really, really important to have those regular opportunities [in Panathlon events],” she said.
“The way that Panathlon organise their events brings the pupils together. They’re well structured, there’s good sportsmanship and it’s presented in a positive, non-threatening way. Our hearing-impaired pupils support each other, it develops their social skills and it promotes their self-identity and self-esteem.”
Jodie Ounsley, the deaf England and Sales Sharks rugby union player, said: “I’d never come across another deaf person in school. Having deaf sport events [like Panthlon] would definitely have helped grow my confidence and open my eyes, rather than feeling a bit isolated at school as the only deaf kid.
“I think it’s so great now that kids have that opportunity and experience. Panathlon forces you to learn teamwork, grow your confidence and mix with people who are like you. Before you know it, you’re having a good time. It’s so important to try and find a passion. It will help you later on in life.”
Several of our international para-athlete ambassadors convey their experiences of growing up in school and the limited opportunities they had available to showcase their sporting ability.
Nathan Maguire, Paralympic wheelchair racer (pictured above) said: “I always say to the kids I meet at Panathlon events that wish I had the opportunity to show what I could actually do when I was younger. I was the only wheelchair user at school and I would have loved the opportunity to show that I have value for a team.
“If I’d had the opportunity to do Panathlon and be a key member of a team, rather than sitting on the sidelines, that would have given me more of a footing in everyday life and in school.
“The younger we start children with disability doing sport, the better they’re going to be. Learning skills you’re going to need for later life is more important for kids with disabilities, because they get fewer opportunities.”
James Dixon, England deaf cricketer reflected: “Many children who take part in Panathlon might, like myself, be the only deaf child in a hearing family or in their school. We don’t want them feeling like they’re second class. We want to build that resilience in them and make them realise that deaf people can do anything they like.
“It’s been great to work with schools in this area [the north west] through Panathlon and see the schools and pupils develop in confidence, and see that you can break down barriers. When I give out medals and certificates, I can see the difference it makes to those pupils and it’s wonderful.”
Rachel Morgan, two-time World and British blind tennis champion gave her view: “I would’ve jumped at the chance [to do Panathlon in school]. Sometimes you do need that community with people who are of a similar experience and understanding to you. You can get on with people who have that innate knowledge of what you’re going through.”
Emily Treweek, 19, was inspired to become a Teaching Assistant at Sacred Heart School in North Yorkshire by the sense of fulfilment she got from being a Panathlon Young Leader
“I remember counting down the days to my first Panathlon as a Young Leader. I was just past myself with excitement,” she told Dom.
“Once you’ve done Panathlon it becomes part of your life. If you’ve been a Young Leader or a participant, just try to spread that around and drop into every conversation you can. We’ve got to get everyone to know just how amazing it is!”
“It made me realise that you don’t have to act any differently with disabled children, you just have to be who you are. It helped grow my confidence both with my peers, other leaders and the competitors, and helped with me not being fazed at all by their behaviours.”
Harry Bowtell, former Panathlon Young Leader, volunteer and now event assistant (pictured above, left) has been with Panathlon for nine years. He said: “Panathlon really changed things for me. It changed the ‘mood’ of sport and what I felt I could do despite my disability. I’ve participated as competitor, done officiating, leadership in primary and secondary, multisport, swimming, ten-pin bowling and during the pandemic I’ve done outdoor events. They’ve also helped me massively with my boccia coaching qualifications.
“It shows leaders where they can go to [in life]. They really enjoy working with children with disabilities and my example shows they can continue their journey with Panathlon.”