youth & education

Role Models: Ready, Set, Gold!

Oct 7, 2020

Since 2006, the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games (SCCOG) has reached more than 20,000 school children a year in more than 50 schools thanks to its unique program Ready, Set, Gold! dedicated to fight against child obesity and diabetes as well as promoting lifelong, healthy lifestyles, thanks to the unique mobilisation of Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

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Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games (SCCOG) was originally founded in 1939 to bid for opportunities to host the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. In order to invest in the Olympic legacy of Southern California – which boasts the largest population of Olympic and Paralympic athletes in the world – SCCOG created the Ready, Set, Gold! programme in 2006 with the mission of promoting healthy lifestyles and inspiring, motivating, and educating students about health and fitness as lifelong goals.

Ready, Set, Gold! partners with the champions of today to inspire the champions of tomorrow through sport. Today’s students face challenges with healthy habit-forming, fitness, and goal achievement. Olympians and Paralympians demonstrate a proven track record of overcoming adversity and obstacles to achieve their dreams. Ready, Set, Gold! offers a unique opportunity for students to work with these local champions to create enduring bonds and to demonstrate that hard work leads to long-term physical well-being and personal achievement.

A targeted message

Based on scientific and social observations in Southern California schools, Ready, Set, Gold! (RSG!) tackles an endemic problem in the US. Obesity and its correlated, non-communicable diseases drastically affect the population from a younger age.  As studies show, obese children have a greater likelihood of developing risk factors associated with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease which often follow children into adulthood. Throughout the programme, school children are sensitised to the benefits of fitness, nutrition and physical activity. Youth is the best moment in life to acquire good habits and appropriate behaviours that will be integrated for the rest of their life.

Ready, Set, Gold! is designed not only to improve students’ health but also to position them for improved academic achievement. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have published evidence that a student’s health is directly linked to their academic achievement: physically active students tend to have better grades, school attendance, and classroom behaviour.

Closing the achievement gap and ensuring every child is college- and career-ready will take a complex and multi- pronged approach by districts, schools, and families. Ready, Set, Gold! is contributing to this movement by helping schools create physical activity programs that promote fitness and an achievement mindset, enabling them to not only help individual students stay healthy and achieve academically, but also to improve school-wide attendance, behavior, grades and test scores.

Student testimonial: “I learned that if I put my heart in it I can do anything.”

Emblematic ambassadors

Who could be better than Olympic and Paralympic athletes to convey such a message for the children? As the programme describes them, these “ordinary people who never gave up, found a way to achieve extraordinary results in the area of life that mattered most to them.” As elite athletes, Olympians and Paralympians are fully qualified to deliver a motivational message about the importance of fitness, nutrition and lifelong physical activity.  The athletes consider the experience just as rewarding, not only as a way to continue their athletic careers by sharing sport and sport related experiences, but as a way to give back to the community.

But their educating role is not limited to promoting healthy lifestyles. Being an elite athlete teaches you the value of effort in life as well as the necessity of goal setting, hard work, teamwork and visualisation. These skills will help anyone in life. This is the reason why the school’s year-round programme includes both a fitness element and a growth mindset element. Olympians and Paralympians are expected to visit the school they are attributed five times a year and deliver this double message. With such a mentoring programme, kids are not only educated about health and physical activity but are also inspired to set long-term goals and find ways to achieve them.

The inspiring example by Olympic and Paralympic athletes is key to the success of the programme. Acting as role models and raising awareness on the benefits of physical activity, elite athletes, either still in the career or retired, have a positive and long-lasting impact on kids’ physical as well as mental education.

Olympian testimony (Olympian Peter Vidmar, LA 84 medallist): “We have a chance to use our identity as Olympians for doing some really good things. To go into adopt a school, to get to know these kids and to see them flourish as they understand the importance of taking care of themselves.”

A concrete incentive

The Ready, Set, Gold! Programme is first addressed to students in the 5th grade (age 10-11), 7th grade (age 12-13) and 9th grade (age 14-15). These school years are the ones when students are expected to take the FitnessGram assessment, which measures student physical fitness levels. As a nationwide used instrument, FitnessGram assesses health-related components of fitness of more than 10 million students across the country in over 20,000 schools. Results show that the Ready, Set, Gold! Programme is well worth the investment and that efforts are paying off in more ways than one: firstly, participants perform better than non-participants on the physical tests, and secondly, they show a higher level of knowledge about nutrition and physical fitness.

Lessons learnt and recommendations

The programme is assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively. All testimonies from students, teachers and Olympic and Paralympic report on the high level of commitment and enthusiasm of all participants. Quantitatively, the FitnessGram assessment shows average good results, above all of the younger students. This latter observation confirms studies that show that children are more responsive and engaged in physical activity than teenagers. This allowed to adapt the programme and focus even more on younger school students.

During the 2019-2020 program year Ready, Set, Gold! served 32 schools, engaging 2,720 students in grades preparing for the FitnessGram and reaching 8,750 students through programming for all grades. Of the participating schools, not only did 82 percent report improved student performance on the FitnessGram, but also 82 percent reported that their students demonstrated improved teamwork skills, and 91 percent reported increased class participation and improved growth mindset among students.

Kids are not only good learners, they are also efficient message spreaders. They are important relays in conveying the message about nutrition and fitness to their friends, parents and community, which amplifies the impact of the programme beyond schools and school students.

On the project management side, the private-public partnership between the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games and Los Angeles United School district, and the sponsors, Samsung and the Foundation for Global Sports Development has proven its efficiency. Combined with the involvement of the athletes, this programme is free for the participating schools.

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