The transformational power of sport

Louise Gordon, Director of Sport at Wimbledon High School GDST, looks at how sport can aid a pupil’s development on and off the sports field

From the GB women’s hockey team winning gold in 2016 and captivating the country on prime-time TV, to Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win, the power of sport to inspire a generation is evident. The quote by Jessica Ennis-Hill sums up a whole approach to life that we’d all love our children to live by; if you believe, you can achieve.

Yet it’s not just the winning, the podium and the trophies of course. The power of sport lies in the resilience it builds, the courage and endeavour, day in, day out: coming back after a disappointing race, after injury, or simply persevering on a bad training day. And we know that the ability to pick yourself up after failure is one of the key attributes we all need – in school and university, in the workplace, in life.

Within education, we see students who struggle with maths equations and history essays bring the knowledge of being really good at something outside the classroom to bear in lessons. On the sports pitch they have learned who they are, where their potential is, as much as they have learned determination and the importance of digging in. Steadily, their confidence in lessons improves too, and ultimately their grades. And it can work the other way as well. A student who is sailing through her GCSE courses, who is used to getting everything right and a perfectionist by nature, can learn invaluable humility, the value of grit and the joy of pulling together as a team that will stand her in brilliant stead in the future, when life is not always such plain sailing. Students who may not find socialising straightforward or may not get on particularly well with individuals on their teams, have to learn how to trust, work with and communicate intuitively with each other – another great lesson for life.

As PE teachers we must motivate and inspire our students every day in many ways. Those reluctant Year 9s who say PE isn’t for them, through to the committed rowers who train five times a week. 

So how do we best nurture and encourage?

We keep it fun but also encourage girls to see sport as an important part of their education by instilling a sense of pride in their learning.

We mix it up – alongside developing key skills in our core sports, girls also get the chance to try something new to expose them to different sports they may not have tried before: volleyball, waterpolo, kayaking, yoga…

We show the end game – our GSA Girls Go Gold event had top sportswomen and men coach and share their experiences; as staff (myself as a former Scottish international hockey player and our director of rowing as an Olympic medal winner) we bring our knowhow, plus we enlist older students to coach their younger peers.

We run a high-performance sports programme for our elite athletes, with extra coaching and mentoring, advice on nutrition and managing training.

We celebrate it – coaching netball down to U12G and using assemblies, sports awards dinners and our annual speech day to applaud the very best of students’ successes.

Prevalent messaging in the media, society and schools across the country stresses the importance of a healthy lifestyle (with people talking about endorphins in a way we certainly didn’t when I was young!). At the same time, we are overwhelmed with a potential mental health crisis in our young people, hunched over gadgets, comparing themselves endlessly on social media or gaming indoors rather than letting off steam out on a playing field. So, let’s together champion the transformative power of sport for body, mind and soul. 

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