school of sport:with TIM MIDDLETON
SOME time ago five schools competed in an Inter-Schools athletics meeting in a neighbouring country. One of the schools arrived after the scheduled starting time; they stepped off the bus in their civilian clothes without any school team kit; in half of the events the school did not have a competitor. In one of the Girls age group Discus event, this particular school’s entrant stepped forward in skin-tight, knee-length jeans and high heels; not surprisingly, she was not allowed to participate in such dangerous gear. In a Boys’ age group Shot Putt event, the same school’s competitor stepped into the circle wearing flip-flops on his feet; he also was dismissed from the event. What were they thinking? And what are we thinking as we read of this true event?
In a previous article we considered the question: is sport worth it? Yes, sport is worth it! We will also no doubt be aware of the age-old saying that “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well”. The school team mentioned above clearly were not aware of such a saying. And indeed, nowhere is it more important than in school sport; if we are going to do sport at school, we must do it well. What then does that mean? How do we do sport well? We do well to consider the four basic principles Foundations for Farming espouse for good farming as a valuable insight as to how to do sport well.
The first principle is that it is “on time”. Players must turn up for a practice or a match in good time, in order to maximise the limited time they have; so they should be warmed up prior to practice. They should be at the right place at the right time; they should use all the time they have; they should use the time rightly, fully; they should do the right drills at the right time in a player’s development. Timing, as everyone involved in sport knows, is crucial. We must do sport on time.
The second principle is that it is “to standard”. We need to ensure that all we do with regard to sport is set at a high standard. The standard, however, is not simply a standard of play or skill but rather what lies behind that level; from beginners to experts, we ensure we set high standards with regard to preparedness, to thoroughness, to respect, to lessons, values and principles. We do not mess around or play at it; we do sport properly, thoroughly, completely, respectfully, seriously.
The third principle is that there is “no wastage”. Every coach will tell his young players that if a player goes into a tackle half-heartedly he is more likely to experience serious injury (ironically due to being scared of getting hurt); the same principle should apply to every practice, every game. Many practices end up with players messing around (hockey players start playing cricket shots instead of practising their hitting and stopping); they end up with players doing a drill once and moving on, instead of practice, practice, practice. Every drill should be conducted at match speed so that players know how to perform in a match context. There is no room for waste!
The final principle is that it is done “with joy”. It is obvious that we perform something better when we are enjoying it; the coach’s task therefore is to ensure players do not go through the motions grudgingly or reluctantly but approach the practices and matches cheerfully, with delight, joy and expectation.
Sport at school is an essential; it is an integral part of the whole curriculum. As a result we must do it well, following the four principles laid out above, whether we win or lose. At school level, therefore, we need to ensure all pupils, not just some, do sport; we need to ensure we do sport regularly not occasionally or sporadically; we need to ensure we have fixtures and not practices only; we need to ensure we value the lessons not the results. When we do that our school is doing sport well.
Many will be aware of the sports’ company slogan which tells us “Just Do It”. While it may encourage us to go and try sport, it equally could be telling us simply to do it without thinking, without wondering, without caring — just do it and get it out of the way! No, that is not doing sport well. Instead we should “Do It Just”; we should do it justice, do it right. We must treat it seriously, fairly, fully, thoughtfully. The school mentioned at the start of this article just did athletics (only just) but did not do it justice by its actions. Sport is worth it; there is no place for flippancy (or flip-flops). We do not play at sport; we must play sport well.
l Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools Email: firstname.lastname@example.org