A stellar career in physical education (PE) teaching and professional development, building on her own lifelong love of physical activity, brought Jo Colin to her current Sport NZ role leading work to get young people engaged and involved in physical activity.
Bringing more young people, particularly young women, into sport and physical activity is one of the priorities in Sport NZ’s Community Sport Strategy.
“It doesn’t take an awful lot to get kids being active and having fun” Jo says. “Ultimately they want things that make them feel, important, empowered and part of something. Supporting teachers to help get them there is my passion.”
It’s a passion which has underpinned her career, most of it in Britain.
Jo started as a secondary school PE teacher, soon becoming a head of department. She then became a teacher-advisor until a new Government strategy on PE and sport for young people saw her move to a role to get more young people active. Her patch by now covered 43 schools.
From there she moved to the Youth Sport Trust, rising from regional to national manager and ultimately head of physical literacy. It was an influential role, dealing with everyone from politicians to high-profile sportspeople including footballer David Beckham, rugby’s Johnny Wilkinson and heptathletes Denise Lewis and Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Work included leading programmes that reached 10,000-plus schools and more than two million young people – many of them traditionally disengaged from education. By now the English system allowed for specialist schools, some of which were sport specialist colleges. There, she says, PE and sport were the gateway. Kids might develop their interest or be motivated to learn a language by, for example, refereeing volleyball in French. Or teachers might use sport to approach written English by offering opportunities for commentating – requiring prepared notes.
In late 2014 Sport NZ knocked on the door, and offered the opportunity to move not only to the other side of the world but into the sport and active recreation arena. She seized it. “I’m always inspired by the chance to do things differently to get kids off the couch.”
“We need to provide opportunities that meet their needs - not just physical but their need to do things with friends, to have fun, to feel confident and so on.”
Supporting teachers is still a significant part of her work. She has a team of four senior advisors who work with educators, coaches and sports administrators at all levels of the system, from early childhood play through to college physical activity and sport, and a raft of projects and programmes on the go.
Play.sport, being piloted at primary, intermediate and secondary schools in Waitakere and Upper Hutt, is a promising newcomer she says. It puts specialist mentors and facilitators alongside teachers to broaden their range of tools and technique and give students a more holistic experience of PE. Communities are also involved.
“We can change lives if we offer young people innovative and high quality PE, physical activity and sports. I believe all kids deserve the chance to experience that.”