It was recently announced by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, that competitive team sports will be made compulsory for all primary age children starting this autumn after he criticised schools for holding Indian dance classes instead. In conjunction with this, a report has stated that competitive team sports may actually alienate inactive schoolchildren and that a traditional focus doesn’t always suit inactive children who may prefer informal, individual activities instead. So is it true?
Firstly, understanding what some of those words actually mean is important. The Oxford English Dictionary defines sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment” and activity as “busy or vigorous action or movement, or a recreational pursuit or pastime.” Both words appear to give reference to doing something physical; which in today’s society, where kids prefer hibernating in their bedrooms for hours on end glued to their laptops surfing the internet, is key and very much paramount to a healthy lifestyle. But it’s the word compete that seems to change an ‘activity’ into a ‘sport’.
The word compete can be very daunting to even the most competitive individual and maybe even more so when it’s used in conjunction with the word team. So is a team the same thing as a group? Not necessarily; a team will generally consist of members that have complementary skills and that together will create a unified synergy through a coordinated effort. But what happens if a child doesn’t feel they have the complementary skills or even desire to be part of a sporting team? The question of whether it should be compulsory arises. Children being forced into a situation they do not like can make them withdraw from being an otherwise confident and competitive person. It could even have the exact opposite effect on the intended ‘team building qualities’ anticipated. This is especially true if the other team members are seen to be ‘more popular’ or ‘more skilled’ at that particular sport. It can make a less active member feel self-conscious or intimidated and less inclined to want to take part and compete.
“Who is on your team makes a huge difference; if they are good friends and you are comfortable with them then you can make the best of a bad situation and get through it, regardless of how tough you find that particular sport,” a sportsperson said when talking about her competitive team experiences at school. “Competitiveness is good but it has to be consensual and fun.” Although she claimed to never have felt alienated by her peers, she did admit that events like sports days were aimed more towards better performing students.
Nobody wants to be that last student waiting to be picked for a team, so it’s probably understandable that certain children would voluntarily alienate themselves from this position and prefer to do their own informal, individual activities where the exposure and potential for criticism and embarrassment is minimal; isolating themselves of their own choice and not necessarily by the team itself.
At school, those who love sports and are eager to be part of a term seem to thrive on interschool competitions and enjoy the adrenaline buzz associated with taking part, but only if they feel confident in their abilities for that sport. It has to be said that being part of a competitive sporting team is excellent if that’s what the individual desires and is driven by, not if they feel pressured into it.
“I for one love team sports. I love how no matter whether you win or lose, you start to grow these friendships with your team mates that sort of boost your confidence and make you want to push your limits,” Hannah Jackson from Garden International School says. She enjoys being part of a team where the reward at the end is achieved through working together. Team sports have to be credited with helping to teach students other valuable skills such as communication, teamwork and leadership, which in turn can generate greater responsibility and help an individual excel in other areas. A child should certainly be encouraged to join but definitely not forced. Let’s remember that competitive team events are not just restricted to the sports field. A student who may not want to be on a sports team or wish to compete on the football pitch may be highly competitive and work extremely well in a team academically in the classroom, especially at something they feel confident with and are good at.
Balance and choice are the solutions to a happy, successful school physical education programme. The options must include sports and activities that are both individual and team-based, confrontational and non-confrontational and can be enjoyed for personal fitness and pleasure, or to compete. But the selection has to come from the individual. Everybody is different and driven by different things and that must be catered for and accepted. If a child prefers to do an hour of dancing alone rather than an hour on the football pitch, should this be frowned upon and not recognised as part of a physical education programme? Sure, dancing may not be classed as a ‘typical’ sport but it can be both competitive and team based and is a fantastic highly energetic way to keep fit and in today’s society where there is an epidemic of inactivity which threatens the health and wellbeing of millions, anything that involves children doing something physical must be accepted and commended.
“Children need to be active in an avenue they enjoy as this is still the single greatest determinant of future adherence to an activity programme,” Joseph Dolcetti, who is trained as a High Performance Specialist said. “It has to be recognised that indeed not all children will want to participate, or have much success in team sports.” There has to be a healthy mix of activities that emphasise interaction and personal challenge.
Paul Wellington, Athletic Director has spent nine years teaching physical education at Garden International School and has seen both individual and team motivated students. He agrees that while there is a place for competitive team sports, there has to be a balance between both team and individual sports and that there is room for both in schools. “Choice, variety and student input is the key to students participating,” he says.
At Garden International School, they ask their students every year to make suggestions for new activities, and this in turn keeps the programme fresh and interesting. “I can’t remember the last time we had a year 10 or 11 lesson where a student did not participate,” he further states. Surely this proves we have to listen to the children of today and work with them, instead of dictating the syllabus. Work with, not against them!
Clearly, the emphasis on traditional, competitive team-based sports is out of line with the way many young people want to participate and could potentially isolate some children. Balance and flexibility are definitely the keys to encouraging the next generation to get involved and more importantly keep motivated. Kids want and enjoy more informal activities such as dancing, skating, and street running; sports that can be done through choice, alone or with friends and where they can wear fun clothes and listen to music. These forms of exercise are more likely to inspire non-competitive, less sporty types and will only help to keep them enthusiastic and more inclined to keep at it. Such activities have to be fully supported, recognised and endorsed as part of a schools physical education programme. That said, competitive team-based sports must still be offered and indeed encouraged as, without a doubt, there are many students that thrive on this kind of interaction and love nothing more than being part of a team competing against each other.
Diversity at school is the answer; whether it’s classed as an activity or a sport, anything that inspires a child to get involved and get motivated into exercise should be implemented. From an informal activity such as dancing to traditional team-based sport such as rugby, if the choice is there for the individual to choose, it is surely less likely that any student will ever feel alienated or inadequate and it just may encourage the inactive to get active, resulting in a healthier generation for future years to come.