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Has School Sport Become too Extreme?

Posted Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The last twenty years has seen an astronomical increase in the standard of the top level of school sport in UK.  The increased allocation of resources – time, facilities, specialist coaching, levels of competition – has developed out of all recognition.  Top level performance, and victory in an ever increasing number of high profile competitions has become more important.  The result is a fierce contest for the services of the best players and the emergence of increasingly demanding programmes of preparation. 

This process – the ‘academisation” of school sport – has unquestionably raised the standard of the best performers and the leading teams.  An unintended consequence, however, is a subtle shift in the purpose of sport in secondary education.  Many schools are conducting themselves as if their principal function is to produce a supply of players for professional sport....

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“They Have Been Telling us the Answer for Years: ‘Please Sir, Can We Have a Game?’”

Posted Monday, 18 September 2017

The industry of sport coaching is a recently evolved one.  Before the 1970s, few teams had anything that could be described as a coach. Other than to transport them to the game. Indeed, many would have been offended by the implication of the concept.  Perhaps more shocking, cones had not been invented.  Any rudimentary team organisation was overseen by the captain. “Game Plans” and “Systems” were in their absolute infancy.

Fifty years have seen a huge cultural shift.  No self respecting team would be without a coach, whatever its performance level.  Player dependency is absolute: coach centricity is unquestioned.  At all levels of every game, the expectation of all is that the coach gives the instructions, and the players follow them.  This is not just before the game. It has become the industry norm that the coach maintains a constant commentary of advice and observation (to...

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Confusing the Purpose of Independent School Sport

Posted Tuesday, 12 September 2017

In most subjects, there is no disconnect between the educational and business purpose of an independent school.  Good exam results are good for business.  Full stop.  This might lead to accusations of teaching to the test, in “exam factories”, but parents and schools find rare and easy agreement here.  Good grades are the right outcome, and everyone aspires to the same thing. When exam results are published every summer, each school seeks a new way of measuring the to claim another record.  High grades correlate with high happiness - across the board.  Results mean reputation.  For the avoidance of doubt, widely published tables offer ready comparison of schools, and bursary of those in the upper divisions are clear of the business implication of this.

The same applies to elite sport.  Frequently produced tables allow clear identification of success.  The top teams attract the...

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If it's under W for Won, does anyone ask you how?

Posted Thursday, 31 August 2017

The purpose of sport is to try to win.  Right?  Therefore, if you win, all criteria have been fulfilled.  Right?  Well, not quite.  Some winning is better than others.

During the Cold War, Soviet bloc athletes won often.  Unsmiling and efficient.  The product of a regime that left nothing to chance.  But world beating effective.   Unlike Brazilian football teams, who won with a smile on their faces, playing breathtaking football incorporating dazzling skill.  If the purpose is to win, then neither is better than the other.   But we instinctively feel that one is superior.  That some hidden judging panel is awarding points for style. It makes us feel better, awakening a special pleasure centre. Welsh rugby and West Indian cricket teams of the Seventies.  Playing with swagger. Australia picked up the mantle in the Noughties, winning Test matches whilst scoring at more than four...

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What can you Guarantee?

Posted Thursday, 24 August 2017

It's the start of a new term.  A new calendar of fixtures stretches ahead, and excitement surrounding the possibilities created by new seasons of football, hockey and netball.  Various trophies await new winners, and life defining moments lie ahead for a fortunate few. For most, another programme of practices, matches, triumphs and disasters will provide material for more school magazine reports, and statistical records.

A lot of effort will be expended by coaches, and a lot of money spent, on fulfilling the programme.  That is for certain.  Other things are equally predictable as well.  These include frustrations with weather.  For most teams, some games will be won and some lost - only the ratios are unpredictable. There will be unexpected triumphs and moments of brilliance - and there will be occasions when the ball hits the post and bounces out, and when the luck goes the...

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Parents in Sport: Do you want to Witness Joy or Victory?

Posted Wednesday, 02 August 2017

The great majority of parents like to see their offspring participate in sports or physical activity.  Rarer is the carer who sees no value in this.  The reasons why they approve of this type of involvement vary, though they are infrequently thought-out beyond the vague conviction that it’s somehow “good” for the kids.  What parents want their kids to get out of their experience of youth sport will determine the environment they choose to put them into, and the achievements that they wish to celebrate and encourage.

Research is quite clear what children enjoy in sport.  Having fun, being with friends, getting better at something, the excitement of competition: these are fairly consistent conclusions.  All these regularly appear above the desire to win trophies.  Whether the influential adults who determine the youth sports environment reflect these priorities is crucial.  It...

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