Physical Education - 'Competition is not a dirty word'

Sports charity says winning and losing are valuable experiences

In recent years, proponents of traditional competitive sport in schools have complained of football and athletics being pushed aside to make way for activities such as yoga and cheerleading. The Youth Sport Trust (YST), which promotes high-quality physical education in schools, has been among those that have promoted "physical literacy" and participation above a focus on winning and losing.

But the charity's chief executive is concerned that the pendulum may have swung too far away from traditional sport. "Competition is not a dirty word, it is something to be desired," John Steele told TES. "We should not be afraid to teach children about winning and losing, to strive to beat their best."

With the second annual Sainsbury's School Games taking place for the UK's young athletes this weekend in Sheffield, the YST has called on schools to rethink their position on competition. Around 1,600 students will take part in 12 current and future Olympic and Paralympic sports during the four-day event.

Mr Steele's comments echo the position of government ministers in England, who have stressed the importance of competition in helping children to develop new skills and learn to work as a team.

Baroness Sue Campbell, chair of the YST, has previously promoted "physical literacy", which focuses on teaching children how to run, jump, catch and throw, to encourage them to lead active lives.

But earlier this summer, a group of MPs criticised the government's plans to put competitive sport at the heart of the new primary school curriculum and to extend school games. The cross-party committee said that competitive team games risked putting some children off sport and that teachers should offer non-competitive alternatives.

The MPs also attacked the government's plan to follow up on the London 2012 Olympics with two years of extra funding for sport in primary schools, worth #163;130 million a year. They described it as a "gimmick" and called for a longer-term strategy.

But Mr Steele urged people to think differently about the future of school sport. "It really is time to start being more positive," he said. "That #163;130 million a year is a significant amount and represents an important opportunity that must be grasped.

"On top of that, you have a growing number of private sector initiatives that are making a huge difference in schools and, of course, the Sainsbury's School Games themselves, which are carrying on the Olympic legacy."

The first school games were held at the Olympic Park in East London just weeks before the start of the 2012 Olympics. Although Mr Steele admitted it would be a "tough act to follow", he said the "amazing facilities" in Sheffield would inspire the young athletes. "For some, this will be their first taste of competitive multi-sports," he said. "It will be an empowering, developmental experience."

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