Tour de force: why sports trips hit the back of the net

John Dabell looks at what kinds of sports trips schools can go on and whether they are worth the time away

Imagine going on a football tour to Barcelona, a hockey tour to Holland, a skiing trip to Norway and a netball tour to Antigua.

Well, these are some of the exceptional and unforgettable overseas activities pupils at Nottingham Girls’ High School (NGHS) have enjoyed in the last year which have allowed them to experience sports in new contexts, compete against top local teams and meet female role models in sport, including former and current Olympians.

Samuel Cooper, junior school PE coordinator and year 6 class teacher at NGHS, says: “International opportunities are abundant at Nottingham Girls’ High School; we want to pit ourselves against the very best in order to challenge our wide range of squads. 

“With trips to the Netherlands for hockey and Barcelona for football, I have been lucky enough to witness the benefits of playing international opponents. Take the Dutch, for example, hockey is in their blood and played at the highest level. Our four-day tour includes the opportunity to play at several different clubs, including Bloemendaal and Rotterdam – two of the biggest clubs in the Hoofdklasse (the Premier League of Holland). Spanning two key stages, our girls work together in highly competitive games, as well as bonding in other areas of the tour such as bowling and eating out. 

“Travelling to the Netherlands also presents an opportunity for girls to venture outside of the UK without their parents (perhaps for the first time), to grow as an individual and become part of a team. We see girls making new friends and thriving off the challenge of playing against the very best.”

Sports trips are a win-win because they offer opportunities galore for pupils to grow, excel and enjoy.

Rydal Penrhos in Japan

Specialist support

But this isn’t something schools generally do without the input of expert providers. School sports travel specialists take care of travel and accommodation, and crucially design and facilitate memorable itineraries by tailoring them to fit groups so that students enjoy sporting experiences that inspire them.

DIY tours are the route some schools take but the personal service of a specialist provider offers far more protection and peace of mind. They have deeper insights into what needs to be considered when planning, they have fabulous contacts and better access to facilities and fixtures. They help make a trip watertight and can provide round-the-clock support.

Selecting a reputable and fully accredited tour operator is essential, though, so that the trip is a success, as they can design a bespoke trip around your specific learning objectives, your curriculum and the skill set of your team. 

We see girls making new friends and thriving off the challenge of playing against the very best 

Halsbury Sport is a family-run school sports tour operator which has extensive experience of organising tours and the Youth Sport Trust’s preferred supplier for school sports tours. 

Head of Halsbury Sport, Kate Martin, says: “We offer a range of different tour types, providing a choice of sporting experiences. These include professional training at the world’s best football and rugby clubs, to friendly fixtures against local teams and international youth tournaments. 

“We also offer tours to long-haul destinations that can include cultural and charitable options. Whatever kind of tour you choose, you’re providing your students with the opportunity to develop their interest in sport and leading a healthy lifestyle. You’re helping them to develop important life skills, including teamwork, the ability to lead and the ability to follow. A school sports tour can help them to develop social skills too. There’s even a proven link between physical activity and academic success. So, is it worth the time away? We certainly believe so!”

20 reasons why sports trips are worth every penny 

Sports trips and tours can:

1. Provide pivotal sporting moments and inspirational experiences that stay in the memory forever.

2. Offer a chance to experience new cultures, perspectives and different ways of working.

3. Take students out of their comfort zones so they experiment with new and different behaviours.

4. Contribute towards essential life skills, eg leadership and teamwork, staying positive and aiming high, problem-solving and creativity.  

5. Improve engagement with sport and contribute to fitness and wellbeing.

6. Provide unrivalled competitive and non-competitive challenges.

7. Give pupils the opportunity to enjoy professional coaching sessions and masterclasses in state-of-the-art sports centres and venues.

8. Allow access to world-class training facilities, stadium tours and fixtures against local opposition.

9. Fuel self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy. 

10. Deliver unique experiences and enrich a deeper interest in sports. 

11. Educate, empower and inspire. 

12. Be fully immersive experiences that also integrate language learning. 

13. Encourage a spirit of adventure and curiosity.

14. Motivate students to take on new challenges with a gusto.  

15. Establish new friendships and foster deeper relationships.

16. Boost cohesion and a sense of belonging.  

17. Encourage independence. 

18. Provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

19. Support students’ achievements.

20. Improve resilience and mindfulness.

Types of tours

Nicky Head, head of physical education at Rydal Penrhos on the north coast of Wales, says: “There are plenty of opportunities for sports trips thanks to tour providers and strong links you may generate both across the country and abroad. Our recent trips have seen Rydal Penrhos pupils travel to northern Spain, Dublin and Japan, to name a few, which has proven to be hugely beneficial for their overall development and team cohesion.

“These are experiences and memories they can take with them and treasure long after they have left us, and it stands them in enormously good stead for similar challenges once they head off to further education or progress into a professional sporting environment.”

Tours come in all shapes and sizes and are available for just about any sport you can think of from kayaking, swimming, coasteering, paddle boarding and blo-karting to dance, aerial-trekking, orienteering, lacrosse and triathlon. 

Niche sports are increasingly popular and different providers specialise in particular sports, so if you are looking for golf, lacrosse, Gaelic football, volleyball, badminton, squash, judo or rowing then these are available. 

Some of the most popular are football, hockey, rugby, cricket, basketball and netball tours, and involve training sessions and friendly fixtures against local teams of a similar standard, as well as excursions and sightseeing so pupils can dip their toes into the local culture. 

Then there are dedicated football and rugby tours that involve a professional element led by youth coaches from some of the world’s top clubs at their official training facilities. Pupils get to see behind the scenes and watch a game too.

Multi-sport tours are also really popular because they combine a range of sports such as football, netball, rugby, hockey, swimming and adventure sports opportunities. These make them more accessible across ages and interests. Schools can also sign up for something more competitive, go on a tournament tour and and enter a team into an international youth tournament.

 It further enhances the value of leaving the comfort zone of home to learn to cope in a friendly, but challenging environment

Many sports tours also include additional extra-curricular activities for children to try including curling, archery, escape rooms, paintballing, bush craft and zip wire. 

If preferred, schools can opt to incorporate sporting fixtures, cultural excursions and an educational visit in one tour. For example, it is possible to combine a hockey tour in Holland with a visit to the WWI battlefields in Ypres.

Some schools, like Felsted School in Essex, operate a sports tour cycle. 

The touring programme is integrated into the fabric of sports at Felsted and they have a well-balanced schedule that allows each sport to tour on a three-year cycle.  

Charlie Knightley, director of sport at Felsted School, says about the recent cycle: “The 1st XV and Development XV have toured South Africa, netball and girls’ cricket have travelled to Barbados, boys’ cricket tours Australia every three years, tennis has been to a Miami Training Camp and girls’ hockey have been to the US and travel to Malaysia next July, while the boys’ hockey went to South Africa and are looking at Germany for next October. The opportunity has also been there for the U13 girls’ netball who made the journey to Malta in October with more plans in the pipeline for a prep school tour in the future.”

Touring is also part and parcel of what happens on your own turf too, with reciprocal arrangements in place for visiting teams to play and compete. 

Knightley says: “The benefit of touring can be seen when we at Felsted host touring teams that we have met on our travels, and when gap years and school placements are planned with families and schools we have played. 

“It further enhances the value of leaving the comfort zone of home to learn to cope in a friendly, but challenging environment. The pupils and staff are ambassadors for the school and country when they travel, and we really believe at Felsted that well-rounded individuals make better players and coaches.”

Nottingham Girls’ High School at HDS hockey club in Den Hague, Holland

Home advantage

Dedicated and organised trips abroad are one exciting way schools enrich their outdoor learning provision but there are also many dynamic opportunities to explore across the UK such as day trips and residentials.

Some ideas include:

● Adventure centres

● Caves and caverns

● Climbing centres

● Crazy golf, football golf, fun golf

● Equestrian centres and riding schools

● Escape games

● Football, rugby and cricket clubs

● Ice skating rinks

● Indoor skydiving centres

● Go karting and motosports centres

● Outdoor pursuits and residential centres

● Paintball and laser tag centres

● Roller skating and roller disco centres 

● Skiing and snowboard centres

● Surfing and scuba diving centres

● Trampoline parks

● Water sports centres. 

This feature first appeared in Independent School Sport magazine.

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