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All to play for: schools' sporting hopes and plans for 2018

Steve Wright quizzes six independent schools on their sporting aspirations for the coming year

Posted by Julian Owen | December 28, 2017 | Sports & Leisure

Our expert line-up comprises: 

Allen Boyd (AB) Director of Sport, Rydal Penrhos School

Bridget Blackwood (BB) Acting Director of Sport, Woldingham School; former member, New Zealand Hockey 

Gwen Byrom (GB) Head, Loughborough High School

Laura Turner (LT) Director of Sport and PE, St Helen and St Katharine 

Andrew Rowley (AR) Director of Sport, Glenalmond College

James Clark (JC) Director of Sport, The Leys School, Cambridge

What will be 2018’s landmark sporting events at your school?

AB: The rugby sevens season is always an exciting time, with our U13, U16 and first VII teams competing on the circuit culminating in the National School Sevens in Rosslyn Park. Our own U16 sevens, with 20 schools competing for silverware, and the Rydal Penrhos Tournament for U12 and U14 hockey and U13 and U15 netball, are always key events. Fielding all-girl cricket teams for the first time will also be a big step forward.

LT: One of the biggest events will be organising and hosting the Girls’ Schools Association gymnastics competition in March. That month also sees us at the National Schools Lacrosse Championships, the ISGA 5-Piece Premier National Championships and the British Schools’ Modern Biathlon Championships, as well as the regional and national netball finals in January and March. We finish off the year at the British Indoor Rowing Championships in December. A busy, and (we hope) a successful year!

AR: We’re aiming to field our first senior girls’ cricket team this year. 2018 will also see the introduction of a new Long-Term Athlete Development programme for our elite performers, offering access to bespoke training through school, regional and national representative sport.

Given our location in the Highlands, skiing is big at Glenalmond and we have two girls’ and one boys’ teams at January’s British Schools Championships. Elsewhere, on the banks of the Almond River, the school has seen a resurgence in interest in fly fishing, which we hope to develop in 2018. 

JC: Alongside an extensive fixture programme, we will be looking forward to the NatWest Cup and Rosslyn Park Sevens in rugby; county, regional and potentially national competitions in hockey; the National T20, Lord Taverners and Lady Taverners Cups in cricket; ISTA Championships and Aegon Cups in Tennis; numerous rowing competitions culminating in the Schools’ Head Race at Putney; and many more. 

Do you have any new facilities opening this year? 

GB: We are breaking ground this year on a new facility for girls’ sport at Loughborough Endowed Schools. This will provide us with space for indoor netball and other court sports, a new dance studio, fitness suite and teaching rooms for A-level and GCSE PE.

LT: Our brand-new sports centre only opened one year ago, so we will be focusing on developing the use of the new fitness suite at its heart. We also have big plans to develop our rowing programme. We are buying a school boat and will be putting together a five-year plan to promote rowing prowess at St Helen and St Katharine.

AR: Last year saw the £250,000 refurbishment of Neish’s, our 1st XV rugby and 1st XI lacrosse pitch – and 2018 will see completion of our state-of-the-art pitchside facilities. This environmentally sound structure, created from an historic cottage, will be totally off-grid, powered by solar panels and incorporating other ‘green’ technology. 

JC: Additions include six fully enclosed synthetic surface cricket nets, allowing more of our cricketers to enjoy both net and square practice using the highest-quality nets; major renovations to our Athletic Development Suite; and a newly-built, design-award-winning boathouse shared with King’s, Churchill and Selwyn Colleges. 

What are your aspirations for the year? 

AB: Simply to do better this year than last year, at all levels of ability. We are a small school and we punch well above our weight in most areas. 

BB: We have high hopes for several ambitious young athletes representing Great Britain – currently in cross country, lacrosse and skiing. We are also looking to stretch and develop our 1st XI hockey and 1st VII netball teams to perform consistently well in Surrey tournaments. 

GB: Sport is for everyone, and this is certainly the ethos at Loughborough High School. All students are expected to maintain their sporting activity until they leave at the end of year 13 and we aim to put on a wide range of fitness activities which will appeal to both our youngest girls in year 7 as well as the young women taking their A-levels. There are clear links between physical activity and good mental health, so the work of our PE department and our new sports build are fundamental to our wider wellbeing programme. 

LT: We are really excited about our new Head of Athletic Development and Health role. This role will not only help to develop the sports scholarship and talented athlete programmes, but will also further our goal of creating a fitness culture more generally within the school.

AR: We want to offer our pupils the best opportunities to play sport, both competitively and for recreation. Energy, decision-making, emotions, teamwork, responsibility, commitment, and enthusiasm are all part of our lives and sport is one of the best ways to learn these life lessons – and, most importantly, have fun too.

Tell us about any sporting trips planned, and their hoped-for outcomes.

AB: Trips planned include Japan (senior rugby), Scotland (golf) plus sailing, hockey and cricket trips all in the pipeline. Outcomes are based around the cultural experiences: broadening horizons, showing pupils the importance of sport in providing opportunities, creating memorable experiences and developing skills. 

BB: Every year we take the senior hockey and netball teams on a tour. In October 2018 we will be taking 35 Year 10 and Year 11 students to South Africa.

GB: Our next big sporting event is a tour to South Africa in summer 2018, where girls will compete against a variety of teams from different schools in netball and hockey, and also help to run sporting programmes in some of the townships.

LT: We have a busy spring, kicking off with a ski trip for 50 students to Italy in February, followed in April by 38 students taking part in a senior lacrosse trip to Boston and 10 girls travelling to La Manga on a tennis tour.

JC: In the forthcoming year or two, we have planned a Year 9 rugby tour to Belfast, a Year 10 girls’ hockey tour to Holland, a senior netball tour to the West Country and a senior boys’ hockey and rugby tour to South Africa. The memories that these trips and tours produce can last a lifetime and they are, without doubt, one of the major highlights in our sporting calendar.

How do you measure sporting success at your school? What mix of excellence and participation do you aim for?

AB: It is only measured through participation and enjoyment levels. Winning is much further down the list, so much so that often scores are not collated, win or lose.

BB: Enjoyment and involvement are huge measures of sporting success. We are fiercely proud that our pupils have a broad, often eclectic range of sporting interests.  Each of our girls is fully supported, whatever their chosen field, because we value the commitment, resilience and sheer enjoyment this affords. An athlete who can meet failure with resilience and who can balance their academic and sporting commitments, is an athlete who can achieve their full potential in every facet of their life.

What do you see as the major changes taking place currently in school sport?

AB: One area of ever-increasing importance for us is athletic development. Some still view this as strength and conditioning – but there is so much more to it, and it is becoming more of a sports science department for us. The technology in this area is rapidly changing, and some of the new equipment is beneficial and some less so. 

LT: It is fantastic to see how much women’s sport has become more mainstream, especially big-ticket team sports like cricket. We are now beginning to see that reflected in schools, and our plans for next summer include working on our own cricket programme. 

AR: Coaching style is one of the fastest-changing areas at Glenalmond. Coaches need to let players get on and make the decisions themselves: a coach bellowing instructions from the sidelines should be a thing of the past. Offer encouragement and praise, by all means: but players themselves should be reflective about their performances at the end of training sessions and matches. Our ethos is now about pupil-driven decision-making, aimed at developing not just the player but the whole person. 

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