A sporting chance

21st March 2003 at 00:00
The sports stars of tomorrow may depend on the school approach of today, says Andrew Cushing

When I entered teaching PE teachers were actively involved in extracurricular sports activities as a matter of course. Other staff would volunteer to take a team, drive a minibus or referee a match. This would breed an esprit de corps among staff and pupils, pride in collective and individual success, and a (mostly friendly) competitive edge in the staff room. It was not difficult then to create a positive attitude towards sport. Regular practices and a competitive programme provided the opportunity for staff to get to know children outside the classroom and to develop interest, commitment, enjoyment and positive values.

Times have changed. The withdrawal of goodwill, particularly in the 1970s and 80s, the adoption of a national curriculum that emphasises planning and assessment, increasing requirements for academic success, significantly greater demands on teachers' time and a shift in the nature of teacher training - all have impacted greatly on the readiness of teachers to become involved in extra-curricular sport.

Where there has been no support, or where such support has been eroded, a "sport culture" needs to be created, requiring a regular programme of activities and co-operation from parents. To establish and maintain their support, send them an initial letter outlining the programme and take time to chat during parents' evenings and informal occasions. Regular newsletters can highlight pupils' achievements and announce forthcoming events. Social events can generate a sense of involvement and raise funds.

It is important to establish a "no cancel" rule. If pupils know there will always be a practice they are more likely to attend. This also helps develop an understanding of team values such as commitment, selflessness and mutual respect. Involve other staff, sports officers or even coaches from local clubs in officiating at matches.

However, success depends on the philosophical and social context. Jane Sixsmith, the former international hockey player, remarked: "If it had not been for my PE teacher would I have been one that got away?" (QA Sport and Physical Education 2002 magazine). This view is supported by footballer Kevin Keegan: "Teachers can introduce a whole variety of activities to youngsters" and rugby union's Dean Richards: "I was lucky to have had a number of teachers with the desire to see a child reach his potential."

The creation of an environment that engenders positive attitudes to sport may have its foundation in a whole-school approach. But it is teachers themselves and the beliefs and actions they value that will have the greatest effect. Making children feel special, understanding their emotional needs, giving them confidence to try new things, emphasising fun and enjoyment, rewarding selflessness, encouraging teamwork and developing a sense of harmony and unity, measuring success in ways other than just winning trophies: these are the things that matter, and they can be achieved simply.

Set achievable targets to aid children's development and enjoyment (can we score two baskets more than last week? Can we make 20 good passes?).

Suggest alternative activities (I once had a pupil who was absent on gym days; when I encouraged him to take up the shot and participate in the athletics team he became interested in a wide variety of sports). Provide opportunities for pupils to demonstrate responsibility - older pupils can help to coach younger ones, and can be encouraged to take awards as referees, umpires and coaches and be given the opportunity to officiate matches or coach junior teams.

These are just a few of the practical elements that must be considered in the development of children in PE and sport. But if their experience is to be rich and satisfying, inspiration is the key.

Useful websites

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (www.qca.org.uk) provides evidence and examples of good practice. Three key elements are identified that provide a clear focus: vision and leadership, teaching and coaching, and frequent and regular opportunities to practice and improve. Cameos include a wide and diverse range of practical ideas.

The National Council for School Sport (www.schoolsport.freeserve.co.uk) suggests making links with the local schools sports associations and the varied Active Sports Programmes, appointing school sports co-ordinators and clusters of schools working together.

Other schemes include Step in Sport (a new initiative from the British Sports Trust, the Youth Sport Trust and Sport England), together with the Sports Leaders Award Scheme for pupils aged 14-plus


QASport and Physical Education 2002 was published by Euromedia Associates, email: editorial@euromedia-al.comTacklesport produce multimedia sports teaching and coaching resources and is a DfES Curriculum Online content provider. Tel: 01905 24713 www.tacklesport.com

Andrew Cushing is a former head of PE and international coach, a senior lecturer in PE and sports studies at University College Worcester, and managing director of Tacklesport

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