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Where is the Fun in School Sport?

Posted Thursday, 07 March 2019

One of the few things on which most people are agreed is that school sport should be fun.  Whilst that might not always be obvious from the ways in which it is delivered – or the response of pupils to its demands – it is one of the few universal justifications for the inordinate expenditure of time, effort and resources that school games demand.

This should, therefore, make designing the programme relatively straightforward.   By providing activities that are fun, widely agreed aims are readily met.  Sadly, it’s not as simple as that.  And the reason is that fun has a wide variety of faces; it is different things to different people.  This means that ensuring fun requires a multi faceted sports provision.

So, where might the fun be?  Most children, when asked to reflect on what they enjoyed most about playing in school teams, are united that the principal fun was...

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The Forgotten Majority in School Sport

Posted Wednesday, 27 February 2019

All schools have kids who love games.  The size of the group may vary, to reflect the culture of the environment.  It may also be subject to attrition at different rates as pupils get older.  But there will always be a sizeable group of boys and girls who love being active and eagerly exploit all the opportunities that are put in front of them.  Schools have more than 100 years experience of providing for the able enthusiasts, and are comfortable that they know how to do this well.  Most schools reserve the best of their provision for this population.

Equally, all schools have pupils who have no interest whatever in outdoor games, and find the pursuit of balls of all sizes to be pointless.  The combination of disinterest and lack of effort ensures that progress is minimal.  This constituency is often allowed to detach from team games at an early stage of their school career -...

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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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