Principal David Smith shares three activities he’s embedded into his life to maintain his health, fitness and wellbeing.

Three activities that help to relieve the pressures of school leadership

How do school leaders manage to stay fit, healthy and well, whilst also leading communities effectively, when the demands are so high?

When I first became a principal in 2017, I found that the level of responsibility and burden of time was unexpected, especially with fewer holidays. I learned quickly that the role didn’t allow me to hit the gym regularly and something else was required. Those early months reinforced the idea that staying fit was clearly going to be a challenge.

Fortunately, three activities emerged as antidotes to work pressures and provided some physical fitness, but also mental relief from the week-to-week ‘hurly-burly’ of school leadership.

Into the blue

Ten years ago, I started to ride a long board. The only way to learn to surf is to fall off many times, fail lots and eventually succeed. Having reached a moderate level of proficiency now allows me to surf on holidays and weekends several times a year.

When I first started, I was surprised by the level of fitness I required to paddle out into the surf. But, the sense of freedom and refreshment of being in the blue water, the thrill of riding the wave and fitness involved, all greatly contribute to my wellbeing and staying fit. Whilst the nearest surf is 3.5 hours away, the effort has been worth it.

Walking the green

I have always enjoyed walking and experiencing the wonders of the Australian outdoors. Many wonderful walks entail scenery, waterfalls, and mountains. Enjoyment of the birdlife, animals, rivers, trees and sunsets has also been part of the experience.

My favourite walks are in the National Parks around Kosciusko and the Warrumbungle Mountains, , New South Wales, Kalbarri in Western Australia, or the ‘great walks’ such as Cradle Mountain in Tasmania or the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia.

I’ve found that fitness is required for multi-day treks and so preparation is essential for endurance and flexibility of limbs and joints. Whether camping overnight or enjoying day treks, regular walking never fails to deliver.

Team games

As a ‘sport nut’, team games have always been attractive to me. Now too old for Rugby codes, I continue with soccer as a regular pastime, having played for over 50 years. Being fit enough to play without injury is a growing challenge, so anti-inflammatories and a good physiotherapist have been vital.

When I lived in the city, there were Over 35 and 45 soccer competitions in which to play. But since moving to a regional centre, I’ve found it challenging to find a team. Upon arrival in Tamworth, I was forced to play in an all-age competition. I was dismayed to learn that the new team included 11 pupils from my own school. My wife joked that many household conversations that night discussed the idea, ‘my sporting life has been ruined! The new Principal has joined my team!’ We had to negotiate what students would call me on the field as ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr Smith’ wasn’t going to work. My strangest moment was when an opponent informed me that the upcoming NAPLAN tests were worrying him!

My worst injury was when I found myself in the dirt, covered in blood, having been kicked in the head by one of my Year 12 students on my own team. The look of horror on his face was only matched by the banter that he would be expelled as a result.

However, Friday night football with 15 to 60 year olds has proved a great way to finish each winter week. It has forced me to stay fit enough to play though I found it was better to do short jogs of 2.5 km in my own time at night. Whilst being able to sub on and off is helpful, I have to be prepared to run for the full 90 minutes. Whilst my physical capacity is nowhere near what it was, and I am slower but more canny, it remains a thrill to play in a team at close to sixty. It should be noted that I am very polite to the officialdom, knowing that my students are watching.

All three of my activities I’ve outlined are enjoyed in company and having a walking partner (my wife) or surfing mate is important. Each requires a level of fitness preparation, providing an incentive to walk, swim or run at home to ensure that each activity is enjoyed to the optimum level.

Whilst many people prefer to rely on regular visits to the gym or weekly rounds of golf, I find that the combination of these three activities keeps me fit, healthy and refreshed.

How do you care for your own health and wellbeing? Do you have a story you’d like to share with Wellbeing by Teacher? Here’s a handy guide on how to get started.