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Moving on from my dream job

by Sam Woodward, current Director of Sport at Reigate GS.

I consider myself very fortunate to have spent the past 13 years of my life working in school sport. I have worked with some exceptional students, brilliant colleagues and for leaders who have shaped how I treat others. However, after 3 years as Director of Sport I have decided to call time on my career in education.

I had always put off teaching as a career option, mainly because my mum told me I should try it. However, having failed in a sustained effort to become a professional cricketer followed by a brief foray in to the City, I embraced the inevitable. With a great deal of good fortune I got a job at Whitgift, where I enjoyed a fabulous 8 years and was privileged to learn from great staff and coach/teach some wonderful students.

From very early on, I set my sights on becoming a Director of Sport and gaining a range of experiences to enable me to perform the role in a way that could support staff and student development, be open to challenge and the education experience of young people through school sport.

I have spent a great deal of time of late, trying to understand how and why I have fallen out of love with school sport and why my I leave this role slightly cynical and weathered from my experiences. To capture the answer succinctly is impossible and in fact the reasons are far reaching and often contradictory. I don’t claim to have done a great job nor be a sector leader, but I gave the role all I had and I simply don’t have the energy nor the capacity to bring about the change nor implement the program I wanted to. Before readers progress, I should say that my musings are mine alone and are formed from my experiences and I don’t wish to seem dogmatic nor preachy!!

As time has gone on and my leadership role developed I have found I struggle with the inauthenticity surrounding the purported aims of sport in a school sport setting. School sport is not professional sport and in my opinion should not try to be. It has a far greater purpose, part of which is preparing a handful of students for the rigors of professional sport, but most of which is to help our students develop a set of skills that can be applied to a broad spectrum of life and give them experiences that will last a life time. Much like the pursuit of ‘academic excellence’ and ‘best grades ever’, the pursuit of an unbeaten season, or multiple national cups – is lost on me. It ignores the stories formed and lessons learned through the process and merely forms the purpose of fulfilling a dubious marketing strategy and a character limited social media post.

I am also curious about the role that school plays in the development of mental health. Many schools do a fabulous job of supporting those with mental health challenges, but is the singular pursuit of academic excellence and/or an unbeaten season undermining our efforts to support the well-being of staff and students. Sport has an enormous role in developing and supporting the mental health of our school community. I suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder for which I have therapy and take medication. However, nothing is more effective for me than being able to ride my bike or play sport with my son. Don’t get me wrong, I love winning and hate losing, and experiencing both is an important part of a sporting education. However, neither support the mental health of our communities as much as having fun, playing a sport they love with their mates. This is a message that should never get lost.

To conclude – I really believe in the value of sport as part of a rich and varied education. It’s value is far greater than the requirements of a marketing strategy or maintaining the status quo (‘this is what we have always done’). And its scope for creating life long behavioural habits and memories is enormous. My hope is that over time it can remove itself a ‘term based’ model formed in antiquity and move towards a program involving far greater student choice and far less concern for winning.

I now move into the travel industry, where I hope to combine my passion for adventure and travel working with the Sporta Group on a new cycling and adventure division. I leave education with some incredible memories, life long friends and many lessons learned.