The importance of sport

Last summer sport dominated as many of us we were bound together as a nation, as households, as families as we followed the men’s England football team in the World Cup. At Wimbledon, for the first time in 13 years, more viewers watched the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber than the men’s final, World Cup hockey fever hit us with a huge surge in interest in women’s hockey and Australian Wendy Tuck became the first female skipper to win the Clipper round-the-world yacht race. To quote Nielsen Sports Research Report 2018: ‘the rate of change in women’s sport is one of the most exciting trends in the sports industry right now’ and I am certainly looking forward to following the impressive Red Roses in the forthcoming Women’s 6 Nations.

All of the above, alongside the incredible commitment of many of the pupils at Sydenham High to their sport, serve as a constant reminder to me as both a Head and a parent of the importance of sport for us all and in particular for children. In a society which is grappling with obesity, as well as rising mental health issues, it is clear to me that participation in sport, be it as an elite sportsperson or as an amateur, can only bring huge advantages and benefits, providing many of the key ingredients for a successful, healthy and well balanced life.

We all need to exercise to be healthy in mind and in body; being part of a club or a team brings invaluable opportunities for social connectivity and friendships. Sport can teach lifelong skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication and is a great way of promoting tolerance, resilience, stamina and determination. Through sport you can learn to focus your mind in a way which can help you beyond sport, teaching you that all important art of having a go, taking a risk and knowing that, win or lose, you are actively developing and progressing. Being part of something meaningful and purposeful is incredibly satisfying and rewarding; certainly being in a team encourages respect and support of others around you. Sport can also be enormously fun and is the perfect way to relieve anxiety and to unwind and, in an age where screen time and the online world can dominate, it ensures that young people are outdoors or active indoors, connecting with others face to face and making the most of the non tech world available to them. Sport, if done regularly, like music, becomes a commitment and a discipline and therefore teaches young people that success in all areas of life will require hard work, regular practice and attendance. Every young person needs focus, aspiration, goals and ambitions, as well as an understanding and awareness that losing means developing and that through making mistakes we become stronger.

As a parent and teacher, I have spent many hours on the sidelines supporting, cheering, encouraging, congratulating as well as consoling and with every disappointment or celebration there are always crucial lessons learnt. I suspect I have gained as much enjoyment as a spectator as those whom I have spectated. It is a great way to support children, as well as watch them grow and develop, and the same principle applies in school. Sport is not, and should not ever be, reserved for the elite. Sport for all in school is crucial, which is why PE remains such an important part of the curriculum, even at Sixth Form level. Schools should offer a range of sports to keep children engaged, active and keen. At Sydenham High our sporting offer ranges from ultimate frisbee to rowing, and includes most traditional sports. Being innovative and broad in the offer will help encourage as many pupils as possible to enjoy sport and engage fully with sporting opportunities, be they through the local borough, neighbouring schools or, in our case, the Girls’ Day School Trust. Parents equally have a role to play and supporting their children to be active in whatever way possible through clubs and weekend activities will only heighten a young person’s propensity for being active.

In today’s world young people need to feel happy in themselves, both physically and mentally, and sport certainly helps build confidence and self assurance. More than this, it helps teach that wonderful lesson that if at first you don’t succeed, keep going and try, try again. Personally I love Ergim Arakin’s notion that there is no such thing as losing – “you either win or learn”.

The profile of women in sport is changing for the better, which is to be celebrated. The Rio Olympics Gold for hockey, the Commonwealth Games win for netball, World Cup victory for Cricket, not to mention the increasing successes seen in rugby and football, with 1.6 million in the UK tuning in to the women’s FA cup final. This is not just about women’s sport, but about great sport and these incredible sportswomen are exceptional role models. Crista Cullen MBE recently visited our school and inspired her audience within seconds, speaking about the importance of grabbing all opportunities and having the right attitude, not just in sport but in all aspects of your life. Kiko Matthews, a survivor of two tumours, recently broke the world record as the fastest female to row across the Atlantic single handed. She inspired our community through her incredible challenge and her desire to inspire those around her to challenge themselves:

“I have found the experiences that come with tackling the unknown and the potential for achievement far outweigh the possibility of failure. With a belief that the outcome is irrelevant, I see challenge as an opportunity to develop skills and knowledge as well as resilience, confidence and relationships.”

Having never rowed before she epitomises the notion that anything is possible and absolutely embodies our motto of ‘fear nothing’. She may not have started as an elite sportswoman, but she has absolutely demonstrated that through sport you can achieve incredible things.  Sport has a huge educational impact on young people in so many ways and last year we saw a significant significant increase in our pupil participation in sport, as well as an increase in the range of sporting opportunities on offer. We are fiercely proud of our elite sportswomen, but equally of the commitment and dedication of all our pupils who partake in sport and our approach of sport for all remains a key priority.

As we watch the world of female sport grow in stature and achieve new heights, I remain equally committed to ensuring that we exploit to the full the benefits of ensuring that the girls here at Sydenham High reap the rewards of being active. After all, in the words of track and field athlete, Jackie Joyner Kersee, “girls playing sports is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.” Important lessons for life.