SmartGym

SmartGym is an innovative technology-enabled model that uses active games and tasks to teach crucial life skills to young people facing mental health difficulties. Given that one child in every five is currently at risk of being failed by the education system and about half of these young people are likely to have emotional and mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD, there has never been a more pressing time to address this health burden.

Currently, in terms of provision, less than 30% of pupils who need mental health support receive it, but with exciting new research and programmes, such as SmartGym, more young people will have access to support. SmartGym is a whole-class programme that teaches skills of attention, communication and resilience through a range of games and physical activities. It aims to address this gap in support and promote peer achievement by empowering those least able to cope.

SmartGym has been designed around those young people most in need of support: those who present with behavioural and conduct disorders, anxiety and depression. By extension, it is for their parents, carers and the teaching staff who are invited to participate in or observe SmartGym sessions. Hosted within the school environment, student users participate in performance drills overseen by two consultant psychotherapists from the Centre, often working in teams that transcend usual categorisers in schools of gender or academic performance.

The main skills SmartGym aims to develop are those that enable young people to better function at home, school and in wider society: concentration, communication, motiviation, resilience, trust and wellbeing. These skills can be applied laterally from the activity space directly into the classroom through post-session feedback and reflection. Researchers from the Centre and UCL are considering the perceived and anecdotal impact of this model while teachers help translate these active skills into the classroom setting.

There have already been promising results. To date, the project has been rolled out across six schools in South Westminster, and 36 teachers and staff have overseen students involved in a weekly SmartGym plan that combines a cardio wall, fitlights, and neurotracker to allow users to monitor their fitness development and set goals. The research aspect of the programme records and assesses changes in mental health, attendance and attainment at the beginning and end of the programme. For more information on the research aspect, please click here. 

Initial feedback includes positive reports of less disruption, improved motivation and stronger relationships. A teacher from St Clement Danes C of E primary school noted the improvement in students’ focus and attitude following a SmartGym session, “[the children appear to be] more mature, calmer, focused”. The student users have similarly engaged, with one saying it’s “fun, it’s educational and I hope that other people can experience what I experienced and learn from it”.

The Centre will continue to roll-out and evaluate the impact of SmartGym on pupil’s mental wellbeing and attendance in five schools over 2 years, and hope to forge new tools for a mentally well and active youth. Brenda McHugh, who co-developed the programme, wrote this piece for Mental Health Today covering SmartGym and the power of sport on children's mental health.

For updates or enquiries about our SmartGym programme please contact Natalie Merrett, Mental Health in Schools Coordinator: Email: Natalie.merrett@annafreud.org