Interview: John Patterson, director of sport, Christ College

John Patterson has returned to his former school to head up the sports department, as well as lead an exciting new BTEC for sixth formers

You came to Christ College, Brecon in 1999 on a sport scholarship; what was your experience like?

It was a fantastic, life-changing experience and the new challenge was just what I needed at that point in my life. Changing schools is never easy especially when leaving your friends but the opportunity of playing sport at a higher level and being part of a school where sport is so important to everybody was too tempting to turn down.

It is probably easiest to split the experience into three categories: academic, sport and community. The academic support and the importance that everybody placed on working hard was a big difference, not only from the staff but by my peers as well. The learning environment was infectious; you couldn’t fail to be pulled along and compelled to work hard.

It provided me with the opportunity to train consistently throughout the week without any distractions and receive coaching and competition that really was first class. Being able to live, train and play at the same place suited me and ensured I remained motivated throughout the season.

The community that I was now part of was something that I had obviously never experienced before. I had the most wonderfully supportive house parents who guided and nurtured me through what was initially a big change in my life.

The school spirit was refreshing, everyone being proud of their school and wanting to achieve great things for their houses really appealed to my competitive nature.

I was encouraged to join new clubs and take part in things that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do before. I joined the school chess team, debating team, the school chapel and chamber choir, and took advantage of the many opportunities that I was presented with.

I have made lifelong friends because of my time at Christ College; living, working and playing sport together allowed me to forge friendships with people from across the world from different cultures and backgrounds.

With 13 years’ experience in education under your belt, you’re back at Christ College as the school’s director of sport. What have you found has changed the most since your school days?

Would it surprise you if I said not much? Apart from a few new teaching blocks and a cover on the outdoor swimming pool, there is still the very special sense of community and pride that the students have in their school that I remember so fondly.

However, a couple of the biggest differences are that the percentage of boarders has decreased slightly, and they have introduced a day house.

You’re also going to be leading the school’s new BTEC. What will this mean for students?

Students taking their first steps towards a new career need the right blend of technical and academic skills in order to become the highly skilled, work-ready individuals employers and universities look for. BTEC Sport provides a combination of assessment styles that suit all learners.

Units are assessed internally by completing assignments and externally through a written exam. Students at Christ College will study four units over the two years of sixth form: anatomy and physiology; fitness training and programming for health, sport and wellbeing; professional development in the sports industry; and practical sports performance.

How will you tailor physical education to individual pupils’ needs to help them succeed?

Open lines of communication with pupils. Placing a greater emphasis on their voice and allowing them to engage in the decisions and activities that shape their time at Christ College.

Continue to provide equal opportunities across the sport spectrum from competitive games (rugby/hockey/netball/cricket/athletics), creative activities (gymnastics/dance), health and fitness (strength and conditioning sessions, fitness classes) and outdoor adventurous activities (kayaking, rock climbing, sailing and mountain walking).

Patterson will provide equal opportunities in competitive games and other types of activity

How do you measure success in your school; is it all about winning?

Success in sport is subjective and certainly not all about winning. Winning is still a major driving point to why students take part in sport, but it is not how I would begin to measure the success of a meaningful sporting programme.

Success for me focuses on developing young people who:
● are committed to sporting activities and make them a central part of their lives both in and out of school
● understand that sport and activity is an important part of a healthy, active lifestyle
● are willing to take part in a range of competitive, creative and challenging activities both as individuals and part of a team
● show a desire to improve and achieve in relation to their own abilities
● and have fun and enjoy taking part and continue to participate in sport not only throughout their time at school but when they leave as well.

Do you think it’s important to encourage all pupils to take part in sport?

Yes. Sport or activity is fundamentally important in developing children’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. Sport develops self-esteem, provides regular exercise, teaches leadership skills and teamwork, provides success and how to deal with failure.

It develops the ability to build strong relationships and communicate with others whilst instilling respect for authority and rules.

Which sports do you enjoy the most, and why?

I really do enjoy watching all sports. I mostly enjoy when the summer and winter Olympic Games come around and am glued to the television for the duration. I have great admiration for individual athletes who train tirelessly for their sport.

I have a real affiliation for team sports and the camaraderie they provide. Rugby has a special place in my heart and I have recently finished playing and miss the competition. If I’m honest, however, I miss the feeling of winning and losing together with my teammates more.

What do you see as major changes happening in school sport at the moment?

I see the desire for improvement in student athletes growing every year. With changes in technology, the equipment that was once only afforded to professionals is now venturing into school sport and students are loving it. Performance analysis, individual statistics and performance data are really driving aspiration and fuelling enjoyment.

Girls sport is riding a very high wave at the moment and I am proud that this is only going to get stronger in the years to come as more investment is made and more role models come to the fore. I am really excited to be part of this generation’s sporting future and can’t wait to see what the next 10 years brings.

You might also like: Skills beyond the classroom by head of Christ College Brecon Gareth Pearson

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