The issue of competitive sport in schools is one of those perennial topics. Should we or shouldn’t we encourage competition, and if we do, how do we keep it constructive and healthy? How can it motivate and help children to achieve their best?
Most schools will have experience of playtime football matches getting feisty, and of the mismatch between those highly competitive players who may play for teams outside school and those who simply want to have fun kicking a ball around when they are not in lessons.
Treading the line between encouraging practice and spending all your break and lunchtimes sorting out sporty squabbles can be incredibly tricky! Ban it, and you remove a potentially valuable way to spend down time at school, but keep it, and you may have to spend time calming frought players!
Way back in 2014, Ofsted found that, “schools with high sporting standards have similarly high expectations in the classroom.” Other studies, highlighted by ChildFund Rugby in Australia, found that “routine participation in sport and physical activities can result in students having higher levels of attentiveness in class,” with positive benefits being seen across learning, attention and concentration, cognition and brain function, participation in the classroom, physical health, mental health, and preparedness for the future.
There is so much to be gained from children’s participation in sport that we really should be increasing the opportunities they have to take part in as wide a range of sports as possible, as often as possible.
Giving everyone a chance to shine
Ian Gregory is Schools Programme Manager at Chance to Shine, a national charity that aims to give all children the opportunity to play, learn and develop through cricket. Working with 600,000 children every year, the charity feels that cricket as a sport can develop personal, social and physical skills. Gregory said: “If we’re going to make this ambitious statement, that we aim to give all children the opportunity to play, learn and develop through cricket, we need to back it up through simple and practical applications of everything we do. We believe that competition is something which all young people can benefit from, but it has to be supported and promoted in a fair, inclusive and development-based environment.”
Chance to Shine achieves this in a number of ways. “Firstly,” Gregory said, “we have to accept that we don’t know all the answers and as a result, we must always consider ‘is there a way we can change our rules?’ ‘what if we shifted the scoring focus?’. By being open to change, we become open to more avenues. Secondly, we have to think about the individual. As a result, we take a ‘Personal Best’ approach for all games and practices we design in our curriculum and ensure this has a pathway through sequentially developing the physical and life skills which the ‘end point’ (i.e. our format we want children to play) requires.”
Taking the “personal best” approach means that even within competitive sport, a child can have success without being on the winning side. As Gregory explained, “Personal Best for us means allowing children to set their own scores and compete against themselves. This allows us to celebrate progress rather than just those who gets the highest score. An example being a rebound catching game where a child has 1 minute to complete as many catches as possible. They try their best and set a total. What then next? They try and beat it and compete against themselves, irrespective of what that score is.
Celebrating the things that matter other than pure performance. If we value teamwork, respect, resilience then make sure that is front and centre of any praise and rewards – don’t just praise those who already have well developed physical skills who collect medals for fun at most events.”
Make every child feel included
Exploring the format of the sports that you offer at your school is important. It needs to be inclusive, and it needs to prepare young people for competition.
“In cricket we have ‘Dynamos Schools’ which is our national competition and by design, supports every child to have a go,” Gregory explained. “Each child bats and bowls in the game for a set period. Of course, their impact on the game will vary but they have a fair chance to contribute.” Gregory suggests building your curriculums and delivery around the progression of skills needed to take part. This gives every child the knowledge that they have already seen and done it, before they play the game.
“At Chance to Shine, we have themed sessions which prepare and provide the skills needed, e.g., ‘Brilliant Bowler’ and ‘Super Striker’,” Gregory said. “They may not play the actual game in every session, but children will be introduced and practice the skills needed for all the roles needed in a game. Be clear on the process and be clear on the ambition.
“We don’t know it all and our approach may still not win the hearts and minds of every child – but we hope what we do sets a platform for healthy and respectful competition which allows every child to understand that cricket is a game for them and for their friends.”
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About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.