"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 become a necessary evil. While it has become apparent that a school's sporting success these days is measured as much by having all the ‘bits and bobs’ that aren’t necessarily fundamental to physical EDUCATION (i.e. a range of facilities that enable pupils to engage in purposeful physical activity and sport underpinned by good coaching) or indeed performance sport (i.e. winning games/ trophies/ being ranked in the top echelon through a combination of world class facilities, highly qualified and competitive coaches, mouth watering scholarships and talent ID programs) Initially, I was not as concerned with these things, as on focusing my efforts on improving the quality of coaching and the pupil experience, but it quickly became apparent that it is what most fee-paying parents want and potential sport scholars have come to expect.
As a school coach, l know that having as many of the biggest, fastest, strongest, most skilful etc. Tom, Dick and Sally's in my school, with an above average level of coaching will win more Rugby/ Hockey/ Cricket/ Tennis/ Football/ Basketball/ Lacrosse etc. games than we'll lose. But the icing on the cake and a way of ensuring those players come into your system in their numbers or can be enticed to join is by creating an environment that's better than the local rivals and the envy or certainly discussion point of the group of schools you compare yourself to.
Schools are able to do this by adding multi-million pound buildings, multi-sport facilities, professional coaches, Performance Analysts, Strength & Conditioning specialists, Physios and all sorts of gadgets and technology. Regardless of whether you pay for it to a greater or lesser extent, if your child benefits from this, you probably don’t see it as a bad thing, especially given the amount of competitive sport played in the Independent sector.
A good education, the right catchment area or social network, a strong sports program and good coaches will always be major recruitment draws, but ultimately, as a Director of Sport/ Head of PE, you will have to bite the bullet, plan your dream facilities and pray your benefactor has more money than your rivals' benefactor.
Will Mbanga- a former Director Of Sport now working in the field of Personal development & Organisational Culture coaching.