Page 36 - Independent Schools Magazine
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 Flexibility key to meshing pastoral & academic aspects with sports development
Sporting high-achievers & their education needs
There are many schools who are in the privileged position of educating high- performance athletes. These incredibly focused and dedicated young people are an asset to our schools, not least through their chosen sporting path, but also because surrounding other pupils by these individuals raises the levels of aspiration and expectation, thus creating an even higher performing environment.
But what can be done practically in our schools to support such pupils academically in the classroom, and in their chosen sport to ensure that they are emotionally and mentally ready for the world when they leave school? Jo Hayward, Deputy Head at Devon’s Plymouth College (pictured right), re ects...
 This will depend on whether
schools have their own integrated high performance programme
or whether they are supporting fewer individuals, but a lot of the strategies that we use work in
both scenarios - from swimmers, pentathletes, fencers and divers
on our integrated programmes,
to supporting pupils representing their country in sports such as table tennis and ski-ing, as well as those playing traditional team sports. It is easy to forget that these incredibly talented young people are often,
at times, leading the lives of young adults, away from home, often independently, and we must help them be as prepared as possible for the pressures they will face. As Tom Daley, Olympic medallist and World Champion, who came back to his former school earlier this year said to the pupils, “The years you spend here at Plymouth College are really going to make a massive impact on what is to come in the future. The lessons in life I learnt here, not just school lessons, have helped me so much in my career in diving and outside of diving.”
A large part of the success
of any programme lies in the communication and close working relationship between all parties working with the athletes. As Nicola Byrne, Head of Girls’ Boarding, in
a boarding school which is sending four pupils to the Commonwealth Games later this year in Australia says, “The maintenance of open and regular communication between coaches, academic and boarding staff, medical staff, parents and athletes is crucial. This allows the school to identify any early issues before they become in any way detrimental. At Plymouth College, bi-weekly staff brie ngs, which includes academic, boarding and
36 Sport & Sportswear
sports staff, allow for an open forum for staff to discuss individual pupils, to share their successes but also to highlight concern. Boarding staff attend weekly meetings with the swimming team for example, with all coaches, house-parents, and the school nurse present. This allows staff to put all information together in a way that enables us to ‘join the dots’ and to look for patterns of behaviour and potential burnout.
It also ensures that the athletes are receiving a consistent and supportive message from all parties. No one part of the pupils’ lives works in isolation, therefore ensuring that that practices are shared and that the athlete is supported in the best possible way”.
In terms of practicalities, as a school, we have chosen to be  exible with our timetable. As Phil Mutlow, Director of Sport states, ‘Our  exibility with regards to games periods enables high performance athletes to either train during school time or to study in this time, thus freeing up further time elsewhere.’
In addition, some training schedules are not as  exible and occasionally athletes can only train when their facilities are available, as happens with our high performance divers who can only train at certain times of the day. With communication and negotiation with their coach, pupils and staff work together to create a workable timetable, yet
still maintain high expectations
and standards of students. With the agreement of the Head of Year, pupils can, where necessary, study fewer subjects to allow them time in the day to solidify their learning on fewer subjects. The boarding routine and school day is tailored around the various timetables. There are double sittings for breakfast
and a  exible supper timetable.
Specialist tutor groups allow the  exibility of pupils being registered whilst eating breakfast, meaning not only do they get dedicated pastoral time with their tutor, but can also train, eat a breakfast which meets their nutritional needs and attend lessons on time. Pupils are able
to rest in the Health Centre when required and there are multiple opportunities to complete prep around the numerous training times.
However, workable timetables for pupils are only feasible with an incredibly  exible and understanding staff. There is a general acknowledgement amongst all staff of how much pupils need to juggle day-to-day. This, combined with academic staff who are responsive if they are aware that an athlete has been away competing or training during regular lesson time, by giving pupils longer to complete work, providing extra lessons or revision sessions, being pro-active in the run up to an event by providing work
in advance (and always avoiding next day homework), and by being available on email, helps reduce overall stress. As James Watson,
the school’s Boys’ Swimming Captain explains, “Plymouth College individually works with pupils to construct training times which
are integrated with an equally as important academic timetable.
Being a swimmer, I sometimes have to miss days of school to attend swimming competitions. However, my education does not suffer as I can speak to teachers who are more than willing to hand out information sheets and even arrange extra study sessions during breaks and lunch times to accommodate for this lost lesson time.”
Acknowledgement of the needs of high performance athletes has
led to a further improvement in
the approach in other areas of
the school. A year-round cricket mentoring programme set up by Plymouth College’s Head of Cricket, Matt Byrne, works with cricket scholars to look at a variety of topics including time management, strength and conditioning, goal- setting and nutrition. As Matt says, “The year-round cricket programme supports cricket scholars and
keen, committed boys and girls
who wish to develop their skills,
not only in the three key areas of the game - technical, tactical and physical - but also to explore the mental side of the game. The programme provides 1 to 1 and group coaching throughout the academic year. All members of the programme also have a focus on their academic performance, which is closely monitored through weekly mentor sessions with the Head of Cricket, who works in conjunction with the students’ form tutor and Head of Year. This balance between a focus on cricket-speci c activities and academic responsibilities is encouraged through the promotion of a growth mind-set from both the individual and the collective group.”
It is this focus on the whole pupil, rather than simply ‘athletes’, that has helped Plymouth College develop
its young people into successful, con dent and mature young adults who perform to the best of their ability, both inside and outside the classroom.
Whatever path these talented
young people choose to follow, the array of skills, strategies, leadership experience and quali cations that they have gained whilst at school puts them in an enviable position as they embark on their future careers in the sporting arena and beyond.

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