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The Inverted Economics of Independent School Sport

Posted Thursday, 06 December 2018

Provision for high performance in school sport has never been more extensive, or of higher quality.  There are more staff, more specialist coaches, conditioners, analysts and physiotherapists than ever before.  This has led to an increase in training times, individual programmes, one to one sessions and visits from a glittering array of inspirational speakers.  It is a truly premium product.

All of this comes at a cost.  Schools have never spent more on the pursuit of sporting victories – nor on the recruitment of able and promising performers.  The oxymoronic concept of a Sports Scholarship has become the currency of choice for many schools, seeking the perceived advantages of winning school matches.

The irony of this is that the pupils who pay the least in school fees often get a disproportionately good experience when compared to the full fee payer.  Whilst a school’...

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How Good do you Want the Opposition to be?

Posted Friday, 16 November 2018

School sport needs opponents. Programmes of competitive activities require other teams - whether they are houses, schools, counties or countries.  We feel that we need to compete against them. The word suggests that.  But mostly we need to compete with them. There is a subtle, but significant, difference.

Elite competition is a zero sum game, in which there is only one winner.  The best school sport is a positive sum game, from which all can benefit.  The collaboration of the other team is necessary to make a high quality experience for all.

At the heart of collaboration is the difference between competition and competitiveness. The latter is what we really prize.  Games in which the result is in doubt, the lead changes hands often and is determined by the direct efforts of all involved.  A one sided game, where there is no uncertainty of outcome, is the enemy of pre-...

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What does Sport for All really mean?

Posted Friday, 12 October 2018

In the 1970s, the then Sports Council came up with a number of campaigns designed to improve levels of physical activity within various groups in society. The laudable generic title was ‘Sport for All’. Few things have survived intact from the era of long hair and flared trousers, but this title is different. It is alive and well in schools, often cited to suggest a programme which aspires to provide for all pupils. Presumably, the alternative would be ‘Sport only for the Athletically Able”. That would be a less catchy title and an uncomfortable philosophy. Despite the fact that it often what is delivered.

 It is, however, a redundant, historical expression, which obscures the landscape of physical activity in schools. Part of the issue is with the word “sport”. It is instructive that the physical life of a school has no agreed nomenclature with which all constituencies are...

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Why does a School need a Director of Sport?

Posted Friday, 28 September 2018

The Director of Sport is a relatively new role in schools. Twenty five years ago, fewer than a handful of schools had a position of this title.  Now everyone has one.  Many Heads report that this is the most difficult position to appoint to, because – unlike other subjects - the success criteria are not clear.  Is it about filling the trophy cabinet, or the ubiquitous and elusive “Sport for All”?  Can a school have plural success criteria for physical activity – with none more important than the others?  What is the point of a Director of Sport?

A Director of Sport provides three fundamental functions that no school has a successful sports programme without:

The first of these is leadership.  Not management, or administration.  This means three things:  the first is the capacity to clearly see the desirable future state of the organisation, and to anticipate exactly how...

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The Sport facilities arms race- building the field of dreams?

Posted Thursday, 27 September 2018

"To be or not to be" or more appropriately in our case, "if you build it, they will come" Vs "if you build it, WILL they come?"

While it is can be an enormous drain on Independent schools' financial resources that arguably could be better utilised on bursaries for less privileged children or (insert your preferred cost unit) the development or continuous improvement of sports facilities has become an arms race. As a former Director of Sport who actively encouraged my own Head and Governors to join the race for fear of being left behind, l would know! Taken in the context of the ever widening divide between the haves and have nots, it has become a source of pride on the one hand, but also a source of friction and one of the perceived evils of the private education sector on the other.

Whatever your feelings and the merits or otherwise of building these facilities, it has...

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The Summer Term Needs a New Girls' Sport

Posted Friday, 15 June 2018

There never was an equivalent of Cricket for girls.  A game that occupied almost everyone at different levels of ability and formed the bulk of the competitive programme.  Cricket occupied that role for over a hundred years in boys’ schools, and part of the legacy of its current declining popularity is the question of what replaces it.

For girls, the summer term offers an often inadequate combination of Tennis, Athletics and Rounders.  None is entirely satisfactory.  Tennis has a high entry level of skill requirement, and uses facilities inefficiently: Athletics captures the imagination of few teenage girls, and the significant number of girls who love Rounders often do so for the wrong reasons.  A small number of girls is in high demand for matches and competitions in all activities.  If the first tennis pair is also the backbone of the Athletics squad and the Rounders team,...

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