Canford School has found a smart way to motivate students to take up exercise, reveal students Theo Snell and Isla Young

Canford School's gym
Canford School’s gym

Lower Sixth Former Theo couldn’t imagine choosing to go to the gym when he joined Canford in Shells (Year 9), thinking ‘Who would go to a building to pick up and put down heavy objects repeatedly when they could just be watching Netflix?’ He was perfectly happy sticking to the compulsory games slots three times a week, and that was that. Yet through the encouragement of his friends and a number of specialist teachers, getting involved in the gym has played a significant part in his overall general health and wellbeing.  

‘Despite my upmost objections,’ says Theo, ‘I was dragged into the gym by a couple of friends when I was in Fourth Form for a few after school strength and conditioning (S&C) sessions being run by the Head of Athletic Development, Mr Cronin. I have not looked back since. As part of the Athletic Development Program, there are sessions for all year groups, tailoring the content for different sports, goals and abilities and having a plan to follow has given me motivation to try and push myself a bit more each session.  

Theo Snell
Theo Snell

‘I know that entering a gym can be an extremely daunting experience for some, but this feeling evaporated for me after one conversation with Mr Cronin. I know from both first-hand experience and talking to friends, that both boys and girls feel comfortable in a space that they once thought too intimidating to visit regularly. 

‘Although it seems Canford could not be doing any more to encourage pupils to exercise regularly and use the gyms to promote their health and wellbeing, it does not end there.  Throughout the year we receive various talks from the sports department, in our houses and within our ‘Beyond The Gates’ lessons, discussing methods to promote our general health outside of sport. The two most recent have been a nutrition talk from Mr Cronin and a sleep workshop by Mrs Clinton, the Head of Physiotherapy and Wellbeing. These talks walked us through the impact our diet and sleep plays on both our physical and mental health. 

‘As I’m sure you can imagine, a group of teenagers being told why we couldn’t keep staying up until three o’clock every night, eating nothing but doughnuts made us think about some of the changes we might need to start making!’

Meanwhile, Fifth Former Isla, plays in a number of team sports but it was through rowing’s S&C programme that she discovered the wellbeing benefits of exercise beyond the main programme.  

Isla Young
Isla Young

‘I began to realise, for my own benefit,’ says Isla,  ‘how going to the gym made me feel. I could see and understand the value of exploring aspects of my wellbeing and keeping active outside of the main sports. This included creating a gym programme that worked for me.  

‘Going on runs with my friends around the Canford grounds in the mornings and evenings is another effective way of staying active and with such beautiful grounds to run through, we are encouraged to appreciate them for our wellbeing. Time and space to run of your own accord outside of sports sessions gives you the opportunity to have time to yourself, relax and not let any homework stresses get you down.

‘Exercising and maintaining a good balance has been proven to improve mental and physical health and has helped me sleep better. Canford offers lots of talks surrounding the topic of wellbeing and one of the many useful ones we have had was an interactive talk about women’s health and managing your pelvic floor muscles. I learnt a lot from this talk as it was not something that I had really discussed before, and talking to my mum afterwards, she was pleased to hear  that we had received education like this about looking after our bodies. 

‘Staying active outside of sport has improved my confidence and my mental health significantly and I am really grateful that Canford encourages us to continue staying active outside of the conventional sports teams in such a positive way.’

For more information about the school’s sport and wellbeing programmes, visit

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