Catch the spirit

14th March 2008 at 00:00
From petanque to kabaddi and kassa to frisbee, Emma Rubach looks at the alternatives to traditional competitive sports

PE teachers get understandably weary of hearing the same old "I forgot my kit" chestnut from pupils anxious to avoid doing any sort of exercise. But for Vicky King, a Connexions personal adviser who works at Peacehaven Community School in East Sussex, the reverse is true. Instead of trying to galvanise reluctant pupils to do PE, she was approached by a group who desperately wanted her to teach them how to play ultimate frisbee.

Frisbee is a non-contact, self-refereeing sport, governed by an ethos called "spirit of the game", which forces players to take responsibility for themselves on the pitch. Because of this, some schools also use it to teach citizenship. It can be played by any age group, with mixed or single-sex teams.

Ultimate frisbee can be played indoors or on the beach (five-a-side) or outdoors (seven-a-side, with larger pitches). Players compete to throw a frisbee to a team-mate in an "end zone", similar to American football. A player can't run while holding the frisbee (known as a disc). The defensive team must force a drop or interception of the disc by marking, like netball, and players have 10 seconds to throw the disc. There are two basic throws: a backhand (think tennis) and a forehand flick.

Vicky thinks it appeals to pupils who shy away from traditional competitive sports. "None of them had played frisbee before. It's a level playing field and they feel a sense of ownership over their club," she says.

Alternative sport is a growing trend in schools and, as well as putting frisbee on the curriculum, Peacehaven has added trampolining, petanque (French boules), kabaddi (a sort of group wrestling) and kassa, an African version of hockey, as part of a cultural games module offered at key stage 3.

"Traditional sports are not what kids want," says Jay Tostevin, lead practitioner in PE at Peacehaven. "While football is still huge for boys - and the fastest growing sport in the world for girls - rugby is dying off and netball has no profile. These new kinds of games are replacing them."

Despite the demand, alternative sports provision remains patchy. However, one county is leading the way. Wiltshire Alternative Youth Sports (Ways) is a partnership between local councils and community action groups. Run with funding from three sources - Sustain the Plain (an EUDefra stream of funding), Sport England and Wiltshire County Council, plus additional funding from district councils, Ways offers tasters in alternative sports including parkour or free running, where city landscapes are used as a giant playground, mountain boarding and power kiting.

Despite the fact that ultimate frisbee is starting to appear on the curriculum across the country, pupils are introducing it to teachers, not the other way around. The UK Ultimate Association (UKUA), voluntarily run with only one (self-funded, part-time) employee, started running leadership awards in February for teachers who want to learn how to coach the sport, but it is struggling to keep up with demand. Groups of children are working out their own rules, says Si Hill, UKUA administrator.

Alternative sports could be what's needed to encourage young people to keep active for life, says Nick Thrower, Ways project co-ordinator. "It can be difficult to find coaches, but we are working on this by setting up training opportunities.

"Also, by trying to have projects set up within youth centres and other community settings, it helps to get young people volunteering and continuing in those particular sports beyond the school gates."

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