Home > ‘My physical literacy journey started before I was born’ – Gemma Finlay-Gray

‘My physical literacy journey started before I was born’ – Gemma Finlay-Gray

'My physical literacy journey started before I was born' - Gemma Finlay-Gray

I feel like my physical literacy journey started before I was even born! 

Young child – Back in the day my dad was a semi-pro footballer and mum enjoyed playing all sorts of sports and was pretty nifty at table tennis and badminton. So some of my very early memories are watching eagerly from the football sidelines until I was allowed to escape and toddle on to the football pitch and watching my parents play badminton with my grandparents in the garden over the washing-line! I was supported and encouraged to try different preschool activities such as swimming, ballet and gymnastics. The latter then became a significant part of my life (and my parents) especially after the ballet teacher said I would never be tall enough and I realised I preferred rolling and cartwheeling around really fast!   

Primary and secondary school – Gymnastics influenced me greatly, it provided routine, discipline and a passion for being active, and also a social opportunity outside of school where I struggled to fit in with school peers. I was often labelled the tomboy or ‘competitive’ and therefore not conforming to the social gender expectation of a girl. I reached a relatively high level, but unfortunately due to injury had to stop participating completely. This was hard to deal with at the time, but due to my parents and grandparents enjoying other sports, I dabbled in tennis and badminton and started playing those more regularly and continue to play now. 

Further education – Unfortunately the offer of sport at school in the early 90’s was still very gendered and despite my requests to play football we weren’t given too many options! I found this very frustrating. However, due to my own passion for sport and external positive influences I took P.E as a GCSE. I was then the only female at our Sixth Form to take it as an ‘A’ Level. This journey influenced my desire to undertake a Degree in Sport Science and Psychology. I mainly played Tennis at university and had the amazing opportunity to work at both Wimbledon and Twickenham. However this made me aware that the lack of female representation in sport (both participating and in the workforce) was very apparent and so after travelling my focus was to move into sports development and advocate for better opportunities for women and girls. I’m still working on that!   

20s and 30’s – My activity habits have definitely changed as I navigated different periods of my life such as moving locations and meeting new people, undertaking caring duties and managing loss, and pregnancy/postnatal. I’ve definitely had and witnessed negative experiences over the years, but I acknowledge my privilege and am grateful that my positive experiences with physical activity from a young age and the role models I look to, have underpinned a desire to find a way to move in my day-to-day life whether that be walking rather than taking the car or trying something new to make social connections/support or fit in to a change in the family routine! 

40’s – I’ve managed to continue to play badminton around work and childcare commitments and started playing for the masters and I’m enjoying the competitive, but very social, opportunity it offers. Although I love the sport and can’t see myself stopping anytime soon (yep masters leagues go up to over 75!), injuries are creeping in. Plus, I’m aware of the perimenopause and building my bone and muscle strength in other ways, so I am keen to start participating in other activities like bouldering, paddleboarding and sea swimming which I struggled to fit in when my son was younger. 

To find out more about what physical literacy means, visit www.activesussex.org/physical-literacy-consensus-statement-for-england-published/

Active Sussex staff member Gemma Finlay-Gray, holding a microphone and speaking at the 2023 Sussex Sport & Physical Activity Awards.
Gemma Finlay-Gray speaking at the Sussex Sport & Physical Activity Awards 2023.
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