Where everyone's a winner

16th December 2011 at 00:00
Sports offer a vital alternative arena for self-expression, achievement and respect

How many teachers can claim to have taught someone who went on to win a World Cup winner's medal? I can! And it was the World Cup of the most beautiful of games: football. Better still, it was the World Cup for Homeless and Excluded Footballers, and not for those overpaid stars who play in the premier leagues.

The magnificent win of the Scottish team in Paris this year, and the positive impact participation had on team members, reminds us of the huge benefits of sport.

For schools, sport remains one of the most effective ways of developing a sense of belonging and attachment and for delivering many of the curriculum's key outcomes and experiences, particularly those linked to health, discipline, teamwork, collaboration, confidence and self-esteem. Sport also reinforces respect for rules, officials, team-mates and opponents. It is about winning with humility and losing with grace.

For those who struggle in classroom lessons, sport provides an alternative means for self-expression and achievement. New studies show sport also helps to raise academic standards. Pupils who receive vigorous exercise every day boost their mental age by an average of 10 months, according to a study which involved 1,000 pupils from Aberdeen schools.

Daily workouts also boost pupils' thinking skills, according to another study which establishes a clear link between exercise, concentration and mental agility.

Yet sport in Scottish schools is not what it used to be. Sports activities are now quite poor and compare badly with what used to be offered in this country and what is being offered in other countries today.

A typical Scottish secondary once had six to eight football teams and three to five hockey teams playing in inter-school leagues. Teachers gave up time after school to manage the teams. Today, many secondary schools don't have any league teams.

I always felt that McCrone and our other education review committees overlooked the full health, social and moral value of sport and missed vital opportunities to develop the role of sport within education.

The days of large numbers of teachers volunteering to manage football teams are long gone, but there are many teachers on low salaries who would appreciate paid work as team co-ordinators and managers.

I have seen after-school sports programmes work in other countries with large numbers of pupils and teachers coming together to take part in after-school sports, games, dance and aerobics. Not every pupil will go on to win a medal, but in terms of health, academic development and so many other things, everyone can be a winner.

John Greenlees teaches geography.

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