With both sporting attainment and the health and nutrition of their young charges near the top of their agenda, today’s leading independent schools will boast an impressive range of sports and health experts among their permanent staff body. But some schools are reaching out a little further, inviting in experts from outside to ensure that both their sports coaching and health, conditioning and nutrition education is the very best it can be.
At Buckswood School, for example, outside help provides an extra edge to sports coaching. This help can range from goal keeping coaching to sports massage, and the school also uses its professional contacts to help its young sportsmen to get behind the scenes and see the myriad career opportunities available on and off the pitch, and to start to make their own connections.
Buckswood – Chelsea FC Foundation coaching session
For example, Buckswood’s Junior Football Academy is run by Chelsea Football Club Foundation, allowing pupils access to the Premiership club’s state-of-the-art facilities, both at its Stamford Bridge stadium and Cobham training ground. “The boys really feel part of the Stamford Bridge/Cobham experience,” explains Headmaster Mark Redsell. “They enjoy exclusive opportunities – a recent highlight included watching the Chelsea under 19s play Valencia under 19s at Cobham. These experiences all add to their confidence and self-belief.”
The school’s external links are impressive – for example, some scholars visit the local airport to work towards their private pilot’s licence. “At Buckswood, every scholar is on their own personal journey to be the best they can be,” Mark continues. “Our philosophy of finding and nurturing talent calls for us to think outside the box, and not to limit ourselves or our scholars to what we can achieve internally. On top of the range of experiences on offer at Buckswood, using our connections in the world of professional sport means that we are all enriched as a result, with a deeper understanding gained from experts in the field.”
Elsewhere, Warwick School has forged relationships – involving shared facilities, resources, expertise and more – with a number of extra-mural teams and organisations, including Worcester Warriors rugby club, Warwick Boat Club [tennis and rowing], Warwickshire County Cricket Club, Leamington Cricket Club and Warwick Hockey and Water Polo Clubs.
“We are fortunate to have several very highly qualified and experienced sports coaches on the teaching staff,” explains Geoff Tedstone, Warwick’s Director of Sport. “We supplement this by using part-time specialist coaches in areas of particular need, allowing pupils to fulfil their potential in a wide variety of activities.”
External coaches also visit for a variety of sports from fencing and clay pigeon shooting to golf, squash and table tennis – a policy which has resulted in many pupils competing at national level. In addition, the school uses an external physiotherapist, Tudor Physiotherapy, who attends pitch-side, dealing with all injuries across age groups, assisted by school medical staff.
When it comes to elite sporting performance, Plymouth College is one of the country’s leading schools – and the College has built its highly successful sports programmes on partnerships with other organisations, in particular Plymouth Leander (swimming), Plymouth Fencing Club (modern pentathlon and fencing), Plymouth Diving (below), and the Royal Western Yacht Club (sailing).
Numbers play a key part, here, in the need for outside help. “Although we have some elite coaches on our staff, we need the extended network of top-level coaches to run our high-performance programmes because of the number of exceptional athletes involved,” explains Sarah Dunn, Plymouth’s Director of Sport.
The College also runs an intern programme, recruiting recent graduates in nutrition, strength and conditioning, and physiology. “This programme runs across the school, and is targeted at everyone from our Olympians to students who simply want to get fitter and healthier,” Sarah explains.
It doesn’t end here, though. Plymouth is also part of the Youth Sport Trust and run the yearly Junior Athlete Education programme – meaning, in the College’s case, that Olympic rower Miriam Luke visits every half term and works with athletes on goal setting, nutrition, personal organisation, positive mindsets and resilience. Elsewhere, school caterers Chartwells hold nutrition workshops two or three times a year, while an external physiotherapist holds regular clinics on site.
Further north, Repton School’s Athletic Development Programme is benefiting from its new partnership with Perform, the sports medicine and science provider at St George’s Park National Football Centre. Now in its third year, the Programme helps Repton’s young sportsmen and women to become complete all-round athletes, developing their speed, power, strength and agility while helping them remain injury-free.
The Perform centre at St George’s Park is home to top-class clinicians and state-of-the-art equipment, including an an internationally-renowned centre of excellence for sports and exercise medicine, performance science, injury rehabilitation and strength and conditioning.
The partnership sees the Perform team in school three times each week, delivering sessions to teams and small groups in addition to individual attention for pupils who require specific injury rehabilitation or support with their training programmes. The Repton development programme follows the guidance of the well-known Long Term Athlete Development model, with an integration of more strength and conditioning-based sessions for older ages.
Repton’s Director of Sport and leader of the programme, Ian Pollock, explains: “Sport can often be a game of small margins, and this programme gives
our young players that extra edge on the field. As well as educating them in the necessary extra investment they should make in their physical development, our approach also addresses the specific needs of growing teenagers as they develop their competitive abilities.
“Perform is one of the UK’s leading sports performance institutions, and we are delighted to partner with them. They have an exceptional team of specialists and our pupils are very fortunate to have their expertise behind them.”
“The programme we have created for Repton is similar to that run in professional clubs and organisations,” explains Dr Carl Wells, Perform’s Head of Sports Science. “It provides key elements of athletic support, tailored to meet not only the demands of the sport but also the needs of the individual. The ultimate aim is to help athletes achieve outstanding success in their chosen sport.”
Whatever the particular blend of internal and external expertise they may be using to get there, the latter is surely an aspiration shared by all leading independent schools.