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Send Children To Sports For Better Results In Class

The Elms Children playing Tag Rugby

THE ELMS PROJECT is a trailblazing out-of-school activities club that reaches over 25,000 children. Its owner, Jason O’Connor, is determined to get more children physically active, but who is he, and what drives him? I caught up with him to find out more.

When did you get into fitness?

From as far back as I can remember, I was always involved in sports and physical activity. “Be home before it’s dark” was the standard call from my mother as we grew up in West London.

Being outside and playing sports was a way of life that I have always cherished and wanted to continue into adulthood.  Doing something you love for a living is essential, bringing me to my time at The Elms.

So, you wanted to be a sports professional?

Yes, I wanted a life in sports because I was good at sports at school, especially football, so I wanted to be a professional football player. Still, sadly, like a lot of young apprentice footballers, I did not make the cut as a professional footballer at AFC Bournemouth.

Still, I had enough about me to ensure that I had something to fall back on.  I worked part-time in a gym, combining semi-professional football and sports coaching – three intertwined areas. 

So, you had a plan B?

Yes, as my love for coaching and improving people grew, so did my experience and knowledge.  After two years of gym, football, and coaching, I decided the right call was to think long-term and figure out a way to coach and develop young people in specific things, which is my vocation to this day.

Where did you start?

I started freelancing work with The Elms Sport In Schools in 2005. My first football session was at an Independent Girl’s School. 

I don’t remember much about the session content, but I remember the parking ticket I received – a £120 fine for a session I was paid £12 for!

Back then, what was your goal?

My goal was to enhance my knowledge of sports and coaching techniques.  Growing up, I was an avid watcher and participator in mainstream sports and ones that showed live events on terrestrial TV. 

Rugby from the Six Nations, cricket from watching tests and one-day finals as well as tennis at Wimbledon were standard procedure, and much like a child copying their superhero after a programme, I would do the same and play these much-loved sports, emulating the athletes I had seen ply their trade on the TV.

The introduction of Sky Sports in the mid-90s meant I could add to my love by having access to more sports.

After years of coaching and countless courses, some worth every penny, some more for box-ticking, I began to grasp the early stages of management.  I would now be more of a tutor, a mentor, and a colleague and could pass my experiences on to others.

What stage are you in your career now?

I am now the business owner of the Elms after 18 years of working for them. The Elms is now at over 100 primary schools, delivering sports to over 25,000 children per week. 

It results from years of building blocks, making improvements but sticking by our beliefs and ethos whilst being ably supported by some brilliant people who all pull in the same direction.

Having remembered my childhood fondly, those years and moments are now scarce for primary school children.  Society is ever-changing. 

Social media has its pros but many cons; one is that it has a natural detrimental effect on a child’s understanding of the world and development of so many skills, as does too much access to computers. 

Safeguarding has become a HUGE factor and, significantly so, since my time in school, but this also means the phrase once said to me: “Be home before it’s dark” is no more.

What’s your ethos?

Inspiring every child we come across in our sessions, we aim to inspire, guide, and give them opportunities.  Every child should have access to vital and competent PE as, for many, this is the only form of exercise they will see in the week. 

The Elms will continue to hold this thought in high esteem and look to develop and improve the provision with the help of those aligned with the same mantra.

What are your plans?

In the long term, I intend to build on our success and continue to expand the business and partnerships with like-minded organisations. We have recently teamed up with Meta-Age to deliver the Super6 Challenge.

I love working with them because this is how I learn. The Meta-Age Challenge is an excellent concept for making six simple exercises a habit for children, just like brushing their teeth.

My coaches incorporate the exercises as a warm-up, cool-down or learning tool, teaching the importance of breath control and movement.

What is the Elms’ message?

At the Elms, we believe youngsters who frequently play sports perform better in school than their inactive peers. They are likely to be physically active during adulthood and are less likely to have chronic diseases later in life.