Page 31 - Independent Schools Magazine
P. 31

How will you know when your sport is successful?
‘Independent schools expend a lot of time, energy and resources on their sports programmes. Often, parents devote considerable emotional energy to keeping
in touch about games. This apparently peripheral area of school life consumes more than its share of attention, and often feels like it causes more dissatisfaction than delight. Few are the schools who are entirely clear what they are attempting to achieve via their sports offering. Fewer still are those that communicate this message to parents in a way which incorporates details of the bene ts which
the programme aims to deliver, and makes them a matter of science, rather than opinion and fable. Until this clarity of purpose and communication is clear, confusion and disagreement are almost inevitable...’
So says Neil Rollings, Managing Director of Independent Coach Education, provider of advisory services, recruitment and training for independent schools in sport.
Society has a clear success criterion for sport. A glimpse at Sky Sports and the Daily Telegraph makes it obvious. Sport is about numbers: who has won, by how much, and who scored the goals. It is therefore unsurprising that these are the default criteria adopted by many parents, with scant recognition
that school sport may be different from the adult game. However, many schools collaborate with this impression, by playing the numbers game, counting carefully the games won, points for and against and the names of the scorers. These misleading statistics proliferate on schools’ websites.
But school sport is surely different. Its aims have more heads than Hydra. Competitive success is certainly one of therm. But equally legitimate are participation, levels
of engagement, health and  tness, positive attitudes to physical activity, the development of desirable personal characteristics and the social dimension of playing with friends. Is it more important to win a Netball match, or for all children to be able to swim? Is it better for everyone to play on a Saturday, or that the best pupils win against local rivals? Should all girls have to play traditional games, or should they have choice? Does an obsession with winning lead to a joyless game with pressure to avoid error? Is this unreservedly good for a school’s reputation? Many of these goals can appear apparently contradictory, and the balance is dif cult to
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achieve. This may explain why so few schools attempt to get to grips with this demanding equation.
The landscape of school sport has changed out of all recognition
in the last thirty years. Parental expectations, concerns about
the unquestioned supremacy of team games, demand for greater democracy of opportunity and the arms race of facility development are some of the factors that have contributed to this cocktail of factors. Clarity of thinking has not moved at the same pace.
How can the situation be improved? The starting point has to be a measured debate in which a school agrees its own success criteria. Its attitudes to democracy and equality of opportunity. Its mechanisms for competitive success, as well as its aspirations for involvement levels. Its aims for engagement and  tness levels. Not in the vague and  orid language beloved of prospectus writers, but in  rm detail, supported by statistics. This will only be achieved by the head and head of sport discussing in detail what is desirable and possible, and de ning how they will measure success in the programme. In prep schools,
it may be that all children should play in school matches. Or that 75% of pupils should play at least 8 matches per term. Or that 50% choose to continue with traditional games in the Sixth Form. Or that all pupils should be able to swim 100 metres of a recognised stroke, or run a mile.
Whatever a school chooses as its measures of success will be a direct re ection of its wider values, and those of its leaders. What they believe is right. What they are committed to delivering. Once that is achieved, there are two subsequent priorities:
The  rst is that this should be communicated widely to staff, parents and pupils. And to the world at large. No one should be in doubt as to the aspirations and identity of the school, and its beliefs. This will impact on
a range of communication mechanisms, but will look a lot different from the points for and against, and a website that looks like the only thing that is valued is the competitive successes of
a high performing elite. There
is a difference between a school and a sports academy. There is a difference between a Director of Sport and a Director of Elite Sport. This communication will be
bene t led. It will explain the underlying science, the implication of relevant research  ndings and
be clear that its foundation is in fact, not unsubstantiated 19th century rhetoric. The science is unequivocal – just widely ignored
in most programmes. For example, the implications of exercise on improved academic learning are well documented. Exercise changes the brain at a cellular level, improving concentration, brain connections and test scores. The  ndings are indisputable. Surprisingly, they are
little referenced or publicised, and consequently schools still battle with the dilemma about whether time spent on exercise in the exam season is good or bad for results. The second requirement is that the programme should be created to deliver the success criteria, and regularly evaluated against these. This might look considerably different from one aimed only
at elite competitive success, and certainly might allocate resources more equitably. It seems both logical and beyond dispute that
the success criteria must be de ned before the programme can begin to be constructed. Otherwise, it is like getting in a car without deciding where to drive.
In most school subjects, the measures of success are easily agreed. By heads, teachers and parents. The relevant numbers are easy to identify. This is not the case for sport. The problems are further complicated by the emotional nature of the experience, which often means that good sense can be suspended in the heat of the moment.
This makes it more important that schools get on with the important business of deciding – and communicating – what exactly it
is that they are seeking to achieve. There is no other area where there would be such commitment of resources without a clear picture of what success looks like.
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