Standards in independent school sport are skyrocketing with cleverly designed programmes, experienced coaches and outstanding facilities all helping to deliver high-quality sports education across the country. After an exciting year, 2020 will see independent schools face new challenges and embark upon many landmark sporting events.
For Debbie Skene, Rugby School’s director of sport, 2020 will see pupils take part in what is commonly referred to amongst students and staff as a ‘bucket list’ event.
“In March 2020 we will run our 181st Crick Run – a 10-mile cross-country run that starts in Crick and finishes on The Close at Rugby School,” says Skene. “Students name this the ‘bucket list’ event to complete before leaving Rugby. It’s open to senior students, Rugbeians, staff and parents, and each year the number of entries is greater.
“We will also be hosting the U16 Rugby Academy tournament on behalf of Wasps, Sale, Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers. It’s a three-day festival and education programme, with the best U16 rugby players in the country attending.
“In June, we host the IAPS national tennis competition – a two-day event to find the best junior tennis players in the country. And in July we will be taking 40 boys and girls to Singapore and Australia on a three-week rugby, netball and hockey tour.”
At King Edward’s Witley, 2020 will be “the year of inclusivity”, the school’s director of sport tells me.
“A revamped, all-inclusive Sports Day Festival with a huge parental presence is in the preparation phase as well as surfing trips, event visits, sports tours (regardless of ability) and ‘alternative’ sport provision all taking the forefront,” says Phil Miller.
A great way to deliver enriching sports provision is to work with external sporting organisations. It enables the school to expand opportunities for pupils as it brings in more than the school can offer on its own.
Skene explains how this works at Rugby School: “We have close associations with the Wasps, Tigers and Saints rugby teams who provide coaches to work with our students during term time.
“Many of our talented athletes have been selected by their academies. Wasps also run coaching camps at Rugby School during the holidays. During the Easter holidays we will be hosting an U16 Wasps, Tigers, Saints and Sharks academies festival at the school.
“We host the Wasps netball U19 academy and the Warwickshire netball U13 county netball academy training. Both organisations also hold coaching camps at Rugby School during the holidays and provide coaches to work with our students during term.
“Our students are given access to Warwick University sports centre to train alongside Wasps coaches and players. Our hockey teams work with MT13 hockey who provide elite coaches as well as coaching camps during the holidays and access to Nottingham University’s training camps. We also work closely with Coventry University and their physiotherapy department.
“We have links with Warwickshire Cricket Club who choose Rugby School as a home ground for their academy teams and collaborate on training programmes for our cricketers. We also share our facilities with the local athletics club whose coach works with our students.”
Miller says King Edward’s Witley works with a large number of sports organisations to bring in high-quality coaches for both elite and recreational activities.
He explains: “Tennis is a prime example for our elite performers where a former Davis Cup player, as well as a former hitting partner of Martina Hingis, form our main coaching team.
“We also have a large presence of external coaches to provide immense breadth to our co-curricular programme. These include activities such as boxercise, rock climbing and dance.”
Fun and health
Although competitive sports form a major part of school sport, it is important for schools to look at the non-competitive, recreational activities they offer pupils too.
In fact, David Byrne, director of sport at Bede’s Senior School, says non-competitive sport should take a more prominent role within school sports programmes (read the full article in our latest issue).
Skene believes both are equally important in Rugby School’s curriculum. She says: “There are both recreational options and competitive opportunities in swimming, squash, badminton, soccer and road running. We also offer Pilates, aerobics and circuit training. Students who do not wish to take part in competitive sport still value the importance of exercise and the social interaction in many sports.”
Miller agrees: “Long gone are the days where the success of sports provision is measured solely by how strong your 1st XI is, although it, of course, forms part of the picture. The aim of sport at King Edward’s Witley is to provide sporting provision that attracts and satisfies the needs of every single individual in the school.
Long gone are the days where the success of sports provision is measured solely by how strong your 1st XI is, although it, of course, forms part of the picture
“The success of a ‘D’ team hockey goalkeeper who successfully keeps her first ‘clean sheet’ or a beginner tennis player who successfully hits a forehand down the line for the first time or our national level 1st XI striker who scores the winning goal are all celebrated equally.”
Sport for all
Although many independent schools are renowned for their fantastic sports provision, that doesn’t mean every student will thrive in PE lessons. In this case, how do directors of sport encourage all pupils to engage?
“We have timetabled sport that ensures all students have a minimum of three opportunities a week to take part in a physical activity,” explains Skene.
She continues: “Students from year 11 can choose their sports options. We also run sports clubs seven days a week. Most of our sports have specialist coaches who work with all year groups and abilities. This allows all students to feel valued and to have the opportunity to develop their ability and boost their self-esteem.”
Miller says: “If pupils were to leave our school and not continue with sport and/or exercise then we have failed. Therefore, sports provision is something that a PE department cannot dictate. Instead, we are led by the pupils. Having a sports council who can feed information back to the department has led to a number of initiatives to engage pupils in sport.
“Examples include evening cricket nets in the depths of winter, fitness suite opening times after prep for a bit of catharsis, as well as allowing the pupils the option to take part in rugby sevens or hockey (their choice) have all provided enhanced engagement from the pupils, with more to come.”
Having a sports council who can feed information back to the department has led to a number of initiatives to engage pupils in sport
There are challenges in every industry, but sports education has its own particular issues that independent schools are looking to address in 2020.
At Rugby School, Skene is passionate about encouraging more participation in team sport because she sees teamwork as a vital skill for pupils’ futures.
“We cannot ignore the mental and physical benefits of team sports which, by their nature, require social interaction,” says Skene.
“Being a member of a team encourages camaraderie, identity and accountability, and taking responsibility for each other’s wellbeing and, in my view, is more useful and enjoyable than physical activity undertaken on your own.
“Working in teams is common in many workplaces but as more and more companies start to rely on IT or remote working, the opportunity for social interaction is reduced. At Rugby School, we try to set an example by running staff football sessions, a staff squash league, a staff netball team and a staff running group.”
We cannot ignore the mental and physical benefits of team sports which, by their nature, require social interaction
Miller has concerns over the cost of independent school sport and the importance of investing in facilities and programmes wisely.
“Unfortunately, sport in independent schools can be expensive. The cost of specialist coaching or the building of new facilities all require a degree of bravery from those holding the purse strings,” he says.
“It is always worth keeping in mind that the success of any school depends on the engagement and happiness of the pupils and parents. Research clearly shows that both academic achievement and sports provision are the most sought-after ingredients for parents and pupils when choosing a school, meaning that wise investment in sports programmes will yield their own rewards for both the school and, most importantly, the pupils.”
It is clear that the benefit for the pupil is the number one priority for independent schools. With wise investment and care for each individual pupil, I believe independent school sport will continue to thrive, and become even more impressive, in 2020.