There aren't many educationally beneficial programmes that come from a colleague winning a competition to get American football cheerleaders and a team mascot to visit your school. However, long after the pom-poms left our school hall, the partnership that was developed that day with the National Football League (US football, not soccer) has continued to have a huge effect on my school.
After seeing the excitement that American football generated during that initial visit, a colleague and I set up an after-school club for key stage 2 pupils who could benefit from enrichment activities. Yes, this group included some pupils with challenging behaviour, but we did not initially think that the club would be a vehicle for improving behaviour, but this is exactly what it turned out to be.
We started the club soon after the competition prize and, riding the wave of momentum that had generated, it didn't take much to get the club going. Set-up costs involved buying a few balls and borrowing a few cones from the PE cupboard, and then, after watching a few YouTube videos about American-football-specific coaching drills, we were ready.
Lessons in perseverance
As well as being engaged by the activities and techniques of the new sport, the pupils in our "hand-selected" group, we quickly noticed, seemed to be demonstrating increased focus and attention. This trend continued over a period of months, and so we contacted the NFL UK office to tell them about our successes. Sensing the opportunity to build on the progress made over such a short period of time, NFL UK sent in trained coaches to deliver lessons during the school day. Soon enough, the reach of our programme grew from the 20 pupils in our after-school club to well over 100 pupils, involving whole classes throughout KS2. Not only did the new sports coaches teach American football sessions, they also delivered PSHE-style lessons based around values such as perseverance, integrity and commitment. Another crucial point to make is that these coaches were inspirational role models for our pupils, who need as many positive influences in their lives as possible.
Breaking down behaviour barriers
The American football schools programme has been designed to be delivered long after the coaches have left the school, and so the programne has continued to run at our school, reaching pupils who really benefit from such a rich extracurricular activity. Pupils who previously had no experience of playing American football have gone on to win pan-London competitions and even played on the pitch during the half-time interval of a professional American football game at Twickenham Stadium. Our pupils have been filmed for a number of documentaries based on our enrichment programme, providing them with opportunities to speak on camera and articulate their passion for the sport, as well as allowing them to gain confidence when speaking to an audience.
The effect that the American football activities have had on our pupils has been incredible. If all of the above sounds like a glossy, idealised version of the programme at our school, then that is only because it has been a real success story for our pupils. It has been the sort of activity that colleagues at the school have come along to during their own time, just so they could be a part of it. Boys and girls previously uninspired by sport found that the game had elements that they could be successful at. Additionally, it has served as a vehicle to break down behavioural barriers for pupils who were previously switched off to the primary school system. The benefits of that are priceless.
Joshua Levenson is the deputy head of a primary school in South London