Do virtual challenges boost student mental health?

There has been an increase in engagement in virtual sport challenges in colleges during Covid, a new study shows

Kate Parker

Mental health: do virtual challenges support wellbeing?

Virtual challenges hosted throughout the pandemic have had a positive impact on staff and student mental health, according to a new report from the Association of Colleges.

The report shows there was an increased appetite and engagement from colleges to take part in virtual challenges organised by AoC Sport, especially via social media. 

Activities hosted by AoC Sport included virtual Fifa championships and a virtual basketball competition, as well as a lunar challenge, which involved students and staff virtually travelling to the Moon by running, walking or cycling in a seven-week period. 

Nearly 5,000 staff and students participated in the virtual programmes. 


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Dean Hardman, AoC director of sport and student experience, said: “Our 2021 impact report is like no other we’ve ever had to produce. Everyone knows about the many challenges that colleges and their students have faced over the past year, so the very fact that we are in a position to publish an impact report highlighting the many achievements in FE sport is testament to the great work being carried out across the sector to get more young people active and engaged with sport and physical activity. 

Covid and colleges: The rise of virtual sport challenges

“It’s been great to reflect on the many and varied programmes that we at AoC Sport, our members and their students have devised and delivered.”

In the report, Jason Allen, DM sport, fitness and physical activity at BMet College, said: “For some students, this has been a lifesaver for their mental wellbeing. It was great to be involved and I am proud of the commitment from the students.” 

Myles Campbell, a level 3 Btec sport student at Blackburn College, added: “The challenge pushed me to be more active in my spare time and gain new hobbies. Usually, I hate running but now I’m enjoying running regularly.”

And Alex Gaiger, head of faculty, sport and enrichment at SGS College, said: “I personally witnessed learners motivating one another to cycle more miles each day and develop a positive mindset during what we know to be a challenging time.”

Throughout 2020-21, AoC Sport also delivered a new Mental Health Ambassador programme through the Leadership Academy. Around 140 ambassadors from 46 college groups were recruited to promote the benefits of physical activity and to support students experiencing mental health problems to be more active. 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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