Sport has long been an established part of all good schools’ curriculum and pupils have enjoyed a broad range of sporting activities over the years. Many of us will recall with pride our ‘PE’ lessons and occasions when we represented our school at events and will recognise how these have shaped our personalities and values in later life. It is only relatively recently that we have started to appreciate the wider benefits to the ‘whole child’ that sport offers.
Aside from obviously ticking the “keeping fit and healthy” box, ensuring sports becomes a regular feature of school life can also deliver huge benefits to the mental, social and emotional wellbeing of the child.
Firstly, let’s discuss the importance of the relationship between sports and sound physical health. Pupils at King Edward’s Witley participate in regular sports lessons, clubs and fixtures across a wide range of activities including football, hockey, netball, cricket, tennis, rounders, volleyball and rugby. Sport is an important part of the school’s curriculum and the calendar of events and all pupils at the school are involved. It is no surprise that when asked about the benefits of sports, the majority will refer to improved fitness, increased strength and speed and the opportunity to encourage weight loss and enhanced overall physical well-being. Research shows that people who take part in regular physical activity are less at risk of many chronic conditions such as, strokes, type two diabetes, cancer, obesity and musculoskeletal illnesses. Although most pupils will not consider this health guidance relevant at such a young age, as adults helping to shape the thinking of the future generation, it is our responsibility to ensure the early adoption of the active lifestyle to minimise the impact of such conditions in later life. To quote statistics to support this viewpoint, in 2009/10 the NHS spent more than £900m in treating individuals for illness and diseases that could have been prevented if people lived more active lives (source: Sport England).
Equally, scientific studies have shown that young people tend to do less physical activity and sports as they get older. Therefore, the younger we can engage them in a wide range of sporting activities the more likely they are to find a sport they enjoy and carry through to adulthood, thus reaping the health benefits as they age. These benefits include reduced risk of obesity, increased cardiovascular fitness, healthy growth of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons as well the wider benefits of increased mental health, greater confidence and improved sleep patterns.
This positive response is echoed in a report in The Foundation for Global Sports Development, which states that young people involved in physical activity generally consume more fruits and vegetables, are less likely to be overweight and are more likely to become physically active adults. One good habit can lead to many good habits, so keeping young people physically active is imperative for their overall health.
We are all aware of the stamina and resilience required when taking part in school sports. I am sure we have all experienced that feeling of wanting to give up when the going gets tough. Sport teaches pupils the importance of perseverance. Resilience is a vital attribute in school and in future life. Overcoming adversity and having the ability to bounce back after setbacks are traits that are not just restricted to the sport and coaching world, they are equally applicable to the working environment.
Mr Eysele says, “Our staff at King Edward’s Witley work hard to ensure that children develop resilience through sporting events. Failure is experienced by every person at some point and learning to embrace it is something that we strive to teach the pupils. We encourage an understanding in the students that the building blocks of success, on and off the field, are setbacks, mistakes and failures. Defining the word FAIL as ‘First Attempt in Learning’ is vital, particularly with the younger students. In the same vein, we also teach them the skill of appreciating victories as a learning experience. Victory in sport gives pupils the chance to savour the sweet taste of success - which is even sweeter if you have had to work hard for it. Taking part in a variety of sports at school allows pupils to experience success and defeat both on an individual and team basis.”
Building social skills
Team sports play a powerful role in developing the pupil’s ability to become a team player, a vital quality for those who want to succeed in their careers, whether they are sports or business related. Classic sports such as rugby, hockey, football, netball and cricket demand pupils to demonstrate a high level of cohesion, support, discipline and sacrifice. Within this there is the opportunity to identify natural leaders and nurture them through channels which require and demand a level of responsibility such as being a captain. These leadership skills will most certainly be applied outside of the sports field and will undoubtedly extend into the workplace.
Team sport develops social skills on and off the pitch and through playing these team games, students learn the Olympic values of friendship, respect and excellence as well as the Paralympic values of determination, inspiration, courage and equality.
Research has shown that sport can have a big impact on our psychological well-being as well as our physical health. It has been shown that exercise can reduce anxiety which will be particularly important for young people who are facing the stresses of exams and making decisions about their futures. Studies demonstrate that playing sports improves well-being, self-esteem and increases confidence and happiness which is surely what we all strive for, producing young people who are balanced, well-rounded and happy individuals? Furthermore, in 2013 the Department for Education posted an article which reported that taking part in sport, particularly team sports, is significantly related to the attainment of higher grades and increases the likelihood of completing school and enrolling in university.
Mr Eysele continues, “At King Edward’s our priority is to ensure participation in sports. We strive to get as many boys and girls across all the year groups to take part in sport and the main focus is on enjoyment. Increasing the number of pupils representing the school at a competitive fixture is an area we are working on and already the results are evident. Out of the Year 7 and 8 cohorts of pupils, 99% have represented the school this academic year, from within the huge range of sports we offer. This involves the opportunity to play sports in a variety of venues outside of the school campus. Nearly every pupil has participated in an away match minibus journey, match tea and heard the roaring echo of “three cheers for King Edward’s” being belted out by the opposition. It is these moments that we want as many pupils as possible to experience, and remember. We are continuing to expand our repertoire of sports by including a few more exciting sports into the extra-curricular programme, including the fast paced and exciting rugby 7s, girls’ cricket and girls’ basketball and volleyball.”
More than winning
At King Edward’s we have seen successes throughout the years including being crowned champions of the ESFA U16 Small Schools Cup in 2016. But all pupils are equally encouraged even if they do not fit the mould of ‘sporty or elite’. We encourage all pupils to take part in sport and physical activity and structure matches and training sessions to allow them to appreciate being part of a team. In team sports, everyone has a role to play and each player makes an equal contribution and so can feel the same elation and sense of achievement at the end of a game.
In schools, we urge all pupils to have courage and determination when learning new sporting skills. We instil a culture of fair play, respect and equality so that all participants work together as part of a team and are inspired to honour fair play and whether they win or lose it is a team effort. It is important that all participants are kept interested, motivated and made to feel that they can be successful, even if the score line at the end of a match suggests otherwise.
Mr Eysele says, ““Success does not have to be measured by a score, nor does it have to be defined as winning. I make it absolutely clear to the pupils, that I am not interested in the score at the end of the match but more focused on the process and the achievement of various key objectives by the end of the game. These attainments will relate to the pupils learning key sporting skills and being able to define themselves as true sports men and women in every sense of the word. Of course, this style of coaching and playing will benefit some teams more than others. With the elite athletes and major 1st teams, winning and successes will naturally be the ultimate goal, and there is always a place for this, but understanding the importance of process, end goals and setting objectives will give a team a strong chance of becoming victorious and successful.
The children in our schools today are the athletes and sports men and women of the future so it is vitally crucial that we teach pupils the right values and sportsmanship required for them to be well rounded and balanced individuals or even elite athletes. We must nurture an individual’s skills and equip them with the tools that will help them establish an enriched and healthy lifestyle now and in the future. We must ensure that school sport teaches pupils how to cope with the pressures of modern life by relieving stress and addressing our mental wellbeing. In school, we want all our pupils to have a ‘can do’ attitude and to enjoy sports – and to apply this mantra in other areas of their lives. By taking part, the benefits they reap will be numerous.”
To cite the Olympic ethos:
‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.’
Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic Games.
Article written by Marc-Antony Eysele, Director of Sport, King Edward’s Witley