Travel Blog Series by Global Challenges PhD Scholar, Amy Carrad
Part 2: The Research Visit
Following the conference of the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA) in Edinburgh (Part 1 of my travel blog series), I flew to Helsinki to meet Dr. Sami Kokko, a prominent researcher in my field of Health Promotion in Sports Clubs, where I am looking specifically at gymnastics in New South Wales as my setting.
After a very sleepless first night in Helsinki, I travelled with Sami to talk with representatives of the Finnish Gymnastics Federation (FGF). I had the pleasure of meeting Helena Collin (Head of Recreational Gymnastics) and Leeni Asola-Myllynen (Health Activities Manager), as well as Leena Martin (Masters student to Sami) who was on work placement at the FGF.
Meeting with the Finnish Gymnastics Federation (left to right: Helena Collin, Leena Martin, me, Sami Kokko, and Leeni Asola-Myllynen
It was an honour they made time for me as they were in the midst of organising the largest international participation-based event, the World Gymnaestrada. I returned to Helsinki later in July to participate in this event (see Part 4 of my travel blog series).
It became evident that there was one large difference in the way Gymnastics NSW and the FGF approach their sport.
This was a focus on sport for children in contrast to participation over a person’s lifetime. Gymnastics NSW’s strategic plan refers to the development of fundamental movement skills for children while the FGF’s speaks of facilitating possibilities for participating in gymnastics for the whole lifetime.
Skating around the lake in Jyväskylä
This philosophy manifested itself very evidently when looking at the numbers – in Finland there are more adult gymnasts than young gymnasts. In contrast, in NSW, 90% of gymnasts are aged 13 years or younger, with a very sharp drop off in numbers after the early teen years. This also means that the FGF makes a great investment in developing and maintaining a gymnastics program targeted at this older population group, both for younger adults (21 to 50) and for older participants (over 50).
For the following two days Jyväskylä University, where Sami works, was host to the National Congress of the Finnish Society of Sport Sciences. Most of the proceedings were in Finnish, however I was able to attend a keynote address delivered by Associate Professor Paul Wright from Northern Illinois University in the United States. His presentation was entitled, ‘Sport for Social Change: Rhetoric or Reality?’ Like the settings-based health promotion approach, his perspective looks beyond sporting excellence to utilising sport as a vehicle to teach life skills, personal and social responsibility, and promote positive youth development.
Active transport is a big thing in Jyväskylä
The final day of my visit saw me sitting down with Sami to brainstorm health promotion in sports settings. For me, this was like being under the spotlight of the master. Sami did his PhD in this area and has published extensively on the topic in the few intervening years. I always find this intimidating because of the fear that you might put your ideas out there and the more senior researcher will laugh you down (I don’t think anyone is actually mean enough to do that). However, after presenting my project concepts to him, he was very supportive and through our further discussion I could see that I am on the right track. That is a huge relief!
This experience has given me an even broader perspective of my idea of the health promoting sports concept.
Prior to the trip I had a relatively narrow view, largely focusing on the childhood years, but now I realise it should be about how we make these settings places that encourage people to continually seek wellbeing for as much of their lives as possible.
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To read other parts in this series: Parts 1, 3 and 4.