Visitors to my school often ask about the sport. We tend to be very good and our top teams and individuals do extremely well in regional and sometimes national competitions. However, what we are really trying to promote is an enjoyment of sport by all pupils, regardless of ability. There are a number of reasons why I believe it to be so important.
Firstly, it is vital for today’s youth to get into good habits with exercise-taking. By being active on a regular basis now, there is a great chance it will lead to a life-long habit of doing ‘something’ physical.
Being healthy applies just as much to the mind as to the body and it is a proven fact that playing sport leads to a better performance within the classroom. Many adults head straight to the gym after a hard day ‘in the office’ and children need this release too. For some, it is an outlet for aggression. For others, it is the element of problem-solving without the pressure of outcome that is the enjoyment. Either way, it is escapism. At the top level – the very highest level – it is inspirational and forces us to consider what we can achieve. Sport, when coached properly, allows the child to develop the ability to think freely and be decisive.
Sport nurtures some very unique aspects of a child’s education that are hard to replicate elsewhere, with the exception of drama perhaps (and don’t journalists often talk of sport as being a drama?). One of these is the experience of losing (as well as winning). Children should be encouraged to play as hard as they can to win but to compete with the utmost dignity and fairness and maintain this while accepting victory or defeat in equal measure. Children who experience this before facing the world of work are better equipped to deal with others diplomatically and respectfully.
And, of course, teamwork. The fantastically named Vanderlei Luxemburgo, who was once coach of Real Madrid and Brazil, appealed to all sport-loving Latinists when he said, “A player who conjugates a verb in the first person singular cannot be part of the squad, he has to conjugate the verb in the first person plural. We. We want to conquer. We are going to conquer. Using the word ‘I’ when you’re in a group makes things complicated.”
He has a point. Sport is so often about the team. As I write, Lewis Hamilton has just become the world champion for the fourth time but he could not have achieved this without his team. Any sportsman or sportswoman who plays as an individual within a team does so to the detriment of those around them.
St Andrew’s Prep plays all the major team sports but it prides itself on the variety that it can offer. We have pupils who are the current IAPS National Champions in chess and table tennis and, remarkably, our U13 female table tennis team took the clean sweep of medals last year, to follow-on from the gold and bronze of the previous year. We host badminton and basketball matches and there is a fencing club. Last year, we re-conditioned an old fives court and this great game is now back in the minds of eager young players. We make use of our wonderful location with cross-country and orienteering activities and we take a number of our pupils down to the local sailing club to get them onto the English Channel. Pupils can opt to play golf, croquet or even a tactical Viking game called kubb and we have children who compete in triathlons. Perhaps our greatest asset is our indoor 25m shooting range which is fantastically popular. It appeals to characters of all temperament and athletic ability and we regularly compete nationally in this sport.
So, there are a range of reasons for why sport is so valuable and it does not matter whether one is any good, whether one plays individually or for a team. It must be enjoyable and if it is, one will develop and flourish in a host of ways. Lynn Davis, the Olympic gold medal-winning long jumper, once said, “Life isn’t about winning everything, it’s about having the grace to learn about yourself and, by putting yourself against the challenges of sport, you don’t only learn about sporting techniques, but you also learn about what sort of person you are, what kind of character you are.”