I should confess, right from the start, that I was not a sporty girl at school. My inability to coordinate hand and eye meant that I never played for school teams and watched in awe as schoolmates struck the rounders ball or popped the netball into the net. On those cold hours on the hockey field, my view was that if the ball showed any sign of coming towards me I would quickly move away from it. I may not have enjoyed it but I did learn some valuable lessons out on the pitch, even when my legs were blue from cold.
First, I quickly realised that there were some things I really wasn’t good at. Experiencing and overcoming failure is a key tenet of the GDST philosophy. We want girls to realise that no one is perfect and that trying to be perfect is pointless. Finding that there are things you can’t do – and the world doesn’t come to an end – is helpful. Sport also builds habits – girls who get lots of exercise in their school years are more likely to be exercising in their twenties, thirties and forties with all the health benefits that brings.
In an all girls’ school there is something wonderfully physically unselfconscious about throwing yourself into sport. I have been in our schools when a class of teenage girls is returning from a sports lesson, pink in the face, tousled, throwing themselves down on the floor – with never a moment of “Am I having a bad hair day?” or “Does my bum look big in this?” Really great inclusive sport takes girls away from all those unhelpful thoughts of bodily perfection and focuses them on the team and the goals.
In my view, the first plank of our philosophy should be ‘sport for all’ – that every girl with an interest in sports or dance or other physical exercise should have that interest supported and nurtured, whether or not she will ever make the A team or its equivalent. That’s why I love it when our schools have A, B, C and D teams and beyond, so that all girls who enjoy a sport have the chance to play it. Across our schools we have such a range of sports and exercise – from acrobatics and archery through to yoga and zumba – that there will be at least one or more activity that a girl can really embrace and enjoy.
In our increasingly image-obsessed society, sport and exercise is one of the ways in which women can reclaim their bodies. It is not about being fat or thin, it is about being fit. It is not about how you look, but about what you do. The brilliant ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, developed by Sport England, is a celebration of active women everywhere and proves that whatever our size, ability or previous experience, sport can be a fun and enjoyable part of our lives.
Habits made now will be habits for life and we’ll continue to do all we can to help our girls develop their sporting prowess and physical fitness.
Helen Fraser is chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust W: www.gdst.net