Beyond the rules of the game

Ben Evans, Headmaster at Edge Grove School, explains why the next generation need sport to thrive in the 21st century

The benefits of engaging in school sport are many and well documented.  Few would argue with the need for children to have regular exercise at school, maintain a high level of fitness and understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle. However, these benefits go far beyond ball control, hand-eye co-ordination and agility. All schools should also be looking to develop the skills necessary for pupils to thrive and become successful in the 21st century and beyond.  If executed in the right way, the acquisition and development of these skills through sport can be beneficial and far-reaching. 

Learning and acquiring the skills for any sporting discipline can be a rollercoaster journey, but to develop, improve and become accomplished takes great resilience, determination, perseverance and hard work. To understand this process of development is an important lesson in itself, as is the ability to dig deep and try your absolute hardest even when things are not going well. Therefore, in partnership with parents, schools must take on the considerable responsibility of teaching children the essential social skills, which can be derived from sport as a priority.  

A wealth of skills

Participating in team sports gives children the perfect opportunity to develop communication skills, to understand the need to listen carefully and act upon instructions as well as to be a good leader and team player. When hosting visiting schools for matches, children are also given the opportunity to act as hosts, ensuring their guests are well looked after – an important life skill in itself.

 All school sports, whether team or individual, allow pupils to develop their social skills. Children are often placed outside their comfort zones ensuring that they have to think carefully, concentrate and try their hardest to be successful and make a good impression. From the art of perfecting a good, firm handshake to maintaining eye contact with others and developing the confidence to speak to anyone, as well as conducting themselves with good grace and manners all come from participating in sport.

Ben Evans

Transferring sport to the classroom

While many skills are gained, practised and developed in the field and on the pitch, it is important to remember that all skills acquired while playing sport are transferable to the classroom even when participating in the more traditionally ‘academic’ subjects.  Effective communication, the ability to concentrate, listen and react, resilience, determination, creativity and growing confidence all come from participating in sport and being a successful team member.  It is, of course, the role of the teacher to understand this and draw upon pupils’ sporting experiences when teaching in the classroom and to develop these skills further.  

Translating sport to the classroom should also go beyond just using simple sporting analogies to explain a maths problem, instead teachers must dig deeper into the core competencies and skills required to develop the most agile, independent and creative learners.

Not everyone is naturally sporty but there are still headteachers out there who measure the success of their games and PE departments by the number of wins and losses on the fixture lists. To do this is naïve at best and extremely damaging for pupils’ progress and staff morale, at worst. The work of the PE and games teachers involves a high level of teaching and coaching to reach all abilities whilst encouraging full engagement, participation and enjoyment.  

There should, in all schools, be an open philosophy of inclusivity in sport to allow pupils of all abilities to share the same experiences. All pupils, regardless of level of ability, should have the opportunity to be a valuable and integral part of a team, to enjoy the match-day experience, to be taught by well-qualified and committed teachers, to enjoy the opportunity to make progress and improve and above all, to have high self-confidence and esteem. Pupil participation must not be limited to the most able or by a desire to win at all costs.

“To understand this process of development is an important lesson in itself, as is the ability to dig deep and try your absolute hardest even when things are not going well.”

Beyond the rules of the game

It is great to see that the teaching of sport has evolved greatly over the last few years.  The archetypal sports teacher – brash, shouty and lacking in empathy for all but the most talented – is, thankfully, mostly a thing of the past. Instead, we now have well-qualified, professional teachers who go far beyond just teaching the skills or the rules of the game and instead view sport as a route for all children to be healthy, understand the importance of maintaining a decent level of fitness and develop all round social skills from being part of a team.  

PE lessons are now quite rightly seen as an important part of schools’ academic curriculum with high standards or planning, teaching, assessment and tracking expected.  It is also refreshing to see that girls’ cricket and football are regular features on lots of schools fixture lists which is breaking down the traditional boundaries between girls’ and boys’ sports, ensuring equal levels of opportunity with the possibility of further exciting developments which will only further enhance the outcomes for pupils now and in the future. 

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