The evolution of PE kit

George Thomas, head of PE at Edge Grove School, discusses how PE kits have changed and what they will look like in a decade

When it comes to the humble PE kit, much has changed over the past decade. The once rather haphazard kit list issued by schools and used by parents to purchase items from an array of shops and department stores meant that most pupils turned up on the first day of the new school term with some pretty varied ensembles. 

Unlike most schools today, kit consistency back in the day wasn’t a strong point. Today though, most independent schools have preferred uniform suppliers which provide all of the kit needed for each specific school. This ensures smart, presentable and consistent PE kits, but with various kits required for different sports, it does come at a price.

Fabrics have changed over the years too. Gone are the days of heavy cotton garments, which became all the more heavy during wet weather. Instead, schools are opting for more synthetic and absorbent materials such as polyester. Continuous research into appropriate kit for boys and girls has also led to more changes in terms of style and fit too.

Girls who were previously made to wear ill-fitting and uncomfortable kits were at an immediate disadvantage and in many cases, this was a major factor in deterring them from participating fully. Thankfully, PE kits for girls today are going some way to addressing these concerns by adjusting material used and reviewing more varied options of style and fit. For schools it is encouraging to be able to explore a greater number of options to enable pupils to feel more comfortable when participating in sports whatever their gender.

Kits must be justified and realistic

Cost of expensive PE kit is, of course, another big consideration for parents who are already paying thousands of pounds in school fees. While it is important for pupils to have the correct kit for the sport or activity they are participating in, schools have to be realistic and mindful of the cost implications, not to mention the reasons behind needing very specific sets of kit. That said, being realistic doesn’t mean that one set of kit will accommodate any type of sport. Most independent schools pride themselves on offering a wide range of sporting activities and having just one kit would be extremely impractical.

You wouldn’t expect the school rugby team to turn up to a match in their cricket whites; on the flipside you would expect a child to be wearing a very durable kit that would withstand the physical nature of rugby.

A noticeable trend in professional sports kits is the incorporation of recycled materials into manufacturing

As long as there is a justifiable reason for needing specific kit, which is related to the general welfare, performance and experience of the pupils, parents will understand the importance of the requirements. For example, most schools agree it makes sense to have a branded school tracksuit to wear before and after matches in the winter because not only does it support the spirit, unity and impression of a team, it also provides much-needed warmth on a frosty day.

PE kit at Edge Grove is about looking the part, as well as enhancing performance

Looking the part

First impressions last; in fact, when it comes to sport and fixtures, many people believe that you can win or lose a match in your head, just from the first appearance of your opposing team and vice versa.

It’s psychological because when you see another school team who look the part in their unique kit, it sets the scene. You immediately make the assumption ‘they must know what they are doing’. In contrast, if your opponents turned up to a match looking dishevelled, wearing all different kinds and styles of kit, you may make the reverse assumption that they are less prepared for the match or completely out of their depth.

But just as the appearance of quality kit matters for the teams involved, it also matters for the school too. At every fixture, the pupils are a walking advertisement for their school. Most kits today carry the school’s branding, colours and logos, and so every fixture is an opportunity to promote the image of the school and raise its profile amongst local and often national audiences.

Having the right kit to facilitate pupil performance is also vital. While some may argue that physical kit has a negligible impact on overall performance, the reality is, having the right kit will aid pupil performance and foster a positive mindset too. The feeling of being part of a team and the ethics of togetherness and unity are made all the more powerful by confident pupils wearing the same kit and having the best tools for the job. This, in turn, will boost performance and team spirit.

Balancing risk and impact on health and safety

PE kits are not just about how a pupil looks and performs though, they also play an important role in the wellbeing, health and safety of each child. Every boy in our school from year 3 and up must have cricket whites for their match and although some parents may be forgiven for thinking, as it is summer, they could just wear their usual games kit for matches and save on the expense, it’s not as clear-cut as that. As mentioned, turning up to a cricket match with everyone wearing the same cricket whites sends a positive impression. Secondly, during matches pupils are often outside in the sun and for prolonged periods of time, so having light and airy long trousers and shirts helps to keep them cool and protect them from the sun – in addition to caps and sunscreen.

Older-style cotton uniforms would have become very hot on warm days and potentially increase the risks of dehydration and exhaustion. Newer, lighter and breathable polyester fabrics allow for greater comfort in the heat, thus reducing the risk to pupils’ health.

In some cases, specific kit requirements can also be linked to hygiene, health and safety – some are mandatory, some are optional. For example, while a scrumcap is an optional extra in rugby, the requirement of a gum shield is one of the most important aspects of the kit and you wouldn’t be allowed to participate in school without one.

Future kits must support a lifelong love of sport

Kits will continue to evolve in the future and a noticeable trend in professional sports kits is the incorporation of recycled materials into manufacturing. Just how affordable it will be remains to be seen. 

Over the next decade we can expect school PE kits to become more personalised, customisable and branded to convey a stronger image, while also supporting a continued sense of belonging for pupils in their teams. There will be an increased choice of fit and styles on offer, which will help to give children more self-confidence.

Creating a positive experience is paramount for a lifelong love of sport and future kits must consider this. If we can ensure pupils’ experiences of PE and games in school are positive – and their kit is a big factor in this – then there is a better chance of them having an active interest in sport in the years to come.

To find out more abut Edge Grove School, visit their website.

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