Co-design can be as simple as getting students to help plan an already existing idea - just the opportunity to have their say and feel like they are actually being heard is often enough to get their buy in to being actively engaged. The key point here – ‘feeling like they are being heard’.

Young Women in Leadership was born out of a conversation with a teacher about lack of motivation, initiative and acceptance of the bare minimum in their students. With drop offs in physical activity in sport happening across the motu (region) we decided to play around with the idea of combining being active with basic leadership skills.

We had clear goals of improving confidence, motivation and willingness to be engaged and involved, but the reality of working with multiple people with different challenges, circumstances and motivations all within a rigid, traditional school space was the biggest challenge.

With great support from school leaders willing to question the current ‘norms’ around what being active at school looks like, we were able to support co-design and the creation of a student-led activity following the one-day leadership session the year 10 girls at school participated in.

Co-design is a valuable tool that is often under-valued and under-utilised in the context of physical activity. In a secondary school environment you may find that PE lessons haven’t changed much since you were at school (be that five or 15 years ago). Yes, they still teach gymnastics… in fact, during my journey of Young Women in Leadership I had a group of girls plan to practice their gymnastics outside of class time to minimise the possibility of ‘failing in front of the boys’ during class. This is not to discredit the spatial awareness learnt through the practice of gymnastics movements, but to highlight that given a different environment these girls may have been better set up to succeed.

I would best describe co-design as a way to engage rangatahi by working with them in creating/developing things that they will be most impacted by (e.g. activities done in PE class), rather than making these decisions for them. Having them participate in this initial stage creates more investment in the project and increases the likelihood of engagement.

The way I introduced it to the girls was by asking them to think of the ways they like to be active, then broaden that to how they would like to be active with their friends. I found using these types of questions still meant they kept the essence of their idea and weren’t inclined to just agree with anything I suggested. Such as: how to create a fun environment; how to make it inclusive for all abilities; how to make others feel safe to participate... of which most ideas seemed to come from personal experiences they had in the past around physical activity. For example, a way to make it fun and safe is to remove competitive elements and to choose activities that anyone would be able to participate in - e.g. walking, colour runs or gym fitness.

Co-design is very valuable and rewarding, and these days gave me great insight into the mind of a 15-year-old female. The girls embraced the day and enjoyed a range of games and activities designed to break the ice and get them warmed up. Watching them step out of their comfort zone, generate their own ideas, and talk about how they want to be active with their peers was awesome. 

An even bigger highlight was how willing they were to get up and share their ideas with the whole group. Albeit some ideas were far-fetched and unrealistic, they were still THEIR ideas that could be moulded to fit the constraints of a secondary school environment.

One key lesson I learnt along the way was how to present the option of co-design to a group. If they were just given instructions to come up with a fun way to be active, they seemed to go off task quickly and there was not much buy in – endless possibilities can be daunting! However, if they were given ideas or examples first, then this gave them a starting point and often we found groups were putting their own spin on an example that was given.

We are now in a world with declining rates of physical activity in our youth. It’s time to look at alternative ways to engage rangatahi in physical activity to help create positive sustainable habit of being active.


Jenna works closely with secondary schools (e.g. Board of Trustees, Principals, Directors of Sport, Sport Coordinators, TICs), and key stakeholders in the youth sport space (e.g. Regional and Local Sporting Organisations) to provide strategic leadership to the school sport sector, with a particular focus on increasing the quality and quantity of sporting opportunities that meet the needs of the Waikato region’s young people.

How co-design is helping more young women to be active at school

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