The changing face of sport in a distanced world

Mark Duncan, director of sport at Windlesham House School, says schools have been given a valuable opportunity to look at their sports offering with fresh eyes

All schools, as in other areas of society, have had to adapt quickly since the onset of the pandemic. Initially this was based around a meaningful virtual offering, as schools across the country ensured physical activity was accessible to children all around the world in a variety of situations.

Many schools worked hard to create a range of contained physical and theory-based options for PE. Taking into account the challenges surrounding home schooling, most schools gave children the freedom to opt into or out of whichever aspect best suited their needs and circumstances.

While accessing PE remotely, it was important for staff to be on-hand at every session or on the other end of a Google Meet to support learning in any way that children needed. In the case of our school, this often led to some highly constructive, often quite amusing dialogue and learning opportunities that may not have otherwise happened during a more conventional whole-class environment.

Community spirit

In the second half of term it became more important for schools to bring their communities together in lieu of events like sports day that traditionally provide euphoric and unifying opportunities for all pupils.

Adopting an Olympics-style theme, we were able to get children, teachers and even parents pulling together for their respective houses with challenges such as the ‘Tokyo to Pulborough’ torch relay, which regularly saw all concerned racking up mileage on their feet or on two wheels that they wouldn’t have dreamed of in a normal week.

Adapting to the return of children to school after half-term gave all schools a new set of challenges. It was amazing for schools to see the children back, but we were very conscious, while working within best practice for a Covid-safe environment, of not wanting it to be a let-down for the pupils who were all incredibly excited to return.

Having a PE specialist attached to each of the year 6 bubbles really helped to add to this by slowly reintroducing some summer team games such as cricket and rounders with adaptations to rules and equipment use to make things as safe as possible.

PE will have definitely become a highlight for many of the children returning to school as it will make things a little more like the school they know and love.

Cricket has been reintroduced at the school with changes to make the game safe

A clean slate

Contact sports, which form a fundamental part of school sport for two thirds of the year, have obviously been an area for concern moving forward. Through organisations like PADSIS, and through local area meetings, all directors of sport have had the opportunity to keep abreast of best practice throughout the sector while monitoring and discussing the latest thinking from national governing bodies for respective sports.

At this point in time, we are at a stage where most of these sports are back up and running in local clubs with small-group distanced skills sessions.

National governing bodies have produced a ‘road map’ for the way ahead, though clearly it is difficult to be precise with timescales in terms of returning to competitive action.

Like many schools we will be keeping our sport in-house up until half-term where we can look again based on the latest thinking and government advice with the hope that we can start to meet once again with all of our friends from other schools in the area.

A huge positive coming out of this tricky situation is the chance to rethink the school’s sports offering with something of a clean slate. Like a number of other schools, we have opted to bring our summer sports into the early stages of the autumn.

Cricket, rounders, athletics, tennis and golf all have a strong foothold at many schools, and they provide the opportunity for children to catch up on lost time from the summer while enjoying sports that are more easily managed along socially distanced guidelines.

Redressing the balance

Beyond this there is a valuable opportunity to look at content with fresh eyes and possibly redress the balance in a sector, which has always been very ‘match heavy’.

By ensuring that health, happiness, physical literacy and all-round wellbeing are at the heart of everything, children won’t be losing out by not having their normal match-load and may indeed be in a better position once we are back to ‘normal’. Activities such as yoga, Zumba, strength and conditioning etc, may form a part of this process of rebalancing.

A huge positive coming out of this tricky situation is the chance to rethink the school’s sports offering with something of a clean slate

While some children and parents may have concerns about missing time on the technical aspects of their favourite sports, it is the belief of a number of schools that this will have little impact on future progression.

The theory that there is little to be gained by early specialisation in team sports and that an all-round physical education has always been the best preparation for success on the games field later in life is one that certainly rings true.

Nurturing a love of sport

Despite the challenging situation we currently face with sports in school, one thing is certain, sports departments and outside clubs across the country will be striving to nurture a love of physical activity in its many forms as we navigate through these surreal times.

Sport is a fantastic vehicle for boosting confidence, building mental health, improving physical health, supporting positive lifestyle choices, making friends and giving purpose and direction.

As we move forward into the autumn term, schools both locally and nationwide will look to generate an abundance of enthusiasm and determination from pupils towards sport and PE in whatever form that takes.

We only have to look at the courage, resilience and creativity children have shown over the last few months to know that they will not be discouraged easily, so perhaps this is one battle that Covid-19 will not win?

You might also like: Sports appointments in September 2020

1 Comment
  • Nigel Green

    I really like your reference to holistic health and wellbeing for everyone. Teachers need to focus on each individual and create positive learning environments that engage everyone and are purposeful, relevant and rewarding.

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