The dying breed of the academic sports coach

What’s an academic sports coach? This is what I would call a teacher, from outside the PE Department, who runs a competitive sports team. (PE colleagues, I’m not saying we aren’t academic teachers, but it’s how I make the distinction. If you know of a better way to describe a teacher who coaches then please let me know). I admire them and think they are role models to the children, especially to young males.

Now for a long time, running teams was something that was just an expectation. It was built on the goodwill of the staff. Excellent way of building relationships with the students, outside of the classroom that would help you in the classroom. Lots of benefits for the children in sports, get involved. However I think how education is changing we might need to review this.

Let’s take Paul as a case study. Paul has a 1st Class degree in chemistry from Bristol and teaches GCSE and A Level biology as well as chemistry and is on a 85% timetable. He also runs a rugby team, for many of the reasons above, but mainly because he believes that sport and academia go hand in hand. He played rugby at a good level at University and now runs triathlons. He quite clearly has a holistic view to education that I wholeheartedly support.

However let us break his sporting commitments down:

Monday after school practice – 1.5 hours
Thursday after school practice – 1.5 hours
Team Selection, communicating with parents, chasing boys and other administrational tasks required for running a team – 1 hour
Saturday fixture – on average 5 hours (this takes into account setting up equipment, hosting, warming up, coaching, refereeing, dealing with injuries, parents and having to go to away fixtures).
Mid week fixture – on average 3 hours as sometimes this can be organised in lesson time (once every three weeks).

So this first term is 15 weeks – 70 hours coaching
10 weekend fixtures – 50 hours
5 mid week fixtures – 15 hours

So even underestimating Paul’s contribution to school sport he puts in 135 hours in the first term. That’s 3 weeks of work at 45 hours (which in my mind is the same as working through his half term and Christmas holidays). Paul doesn’t complain, he gets on with it, but people like Paul are a dying breed. 10 years ago in my school there were over 20 teachers like Paul, now there is only 3. One member of staff is in his second year and is already finding the pressures of his day to day job very demanding and has already informed me he won’t be running a team next year. This story is being told repeatedly to me by colleagues in other schools we play against. I’m worried in some cases competitive school sport could disappear. Goodwill is an asset that once lost will never be got back. Relying on it to deliver any programme, without valuing the person giving it, is like building castles on the sand.

My union gives advice to schools about teachers who run extra-curricular activities and believes they should be remunerated for their efforts. I think the time of goodwill is potentially over. Teachers have been constantly asked to do more and more, pick up more roles of responsibility within a students life and to deliver better grades. Paying a teacher to run an extra-curricular activity isn’t going to solve this problem. Workload needs to be tackled at the highest level. However some form of pay or time allowance will show that what they provide is valued. I think paying for coaching qualifications and giving time to do them also shows that what they do is valued. Current practice usually has this fall to the individual teacher.

Perhaps I’m approaching this all wrong. Perhaps there is no longer a place for extra-curricular provision in schools. Perhaps we should just be focusing on the grades. Bogged down under pointless paperwork, constant marking and work scrutiny, performance related pay, before school and after school interventions for GCSE and A-Level subjects it will always be the ‘extras’ that go first. Not just sport, but also drama, debating, art, music and dance may potentially disappear from enrichment provision. The fact that we are now seeing a marginalised curriculum, especially at 6th Form, where is the breadth in education going to come from? However If sport along with other extra-curricular activities are important for a child’s education and development, how are we going to provide those opportunities? Goodwill?

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9 thoughts on “The dying breed of the academic sports coach

  1. Similar story at my place. Before I started as HoD there were the good old days of 4/5 rugby fixtures every Saturday with various staff helping out. Saturday fixtures have long gone and so have the staff. Very lucky to have a geographer and historian helping with a football team each. Would love an U18 netball team but not enough hours between department to run. Mentioned this to SLT and they suggested asking other staff. I’ve made the same announcement in briefing every September but to no avail.
    I’m leaving at Christmas and I’m not being replaced like for like. There’s going to be a huge impact on the extra curricular programme we currently offer and not in a positive way.

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    1. If extra-curricular activity, including sport is important it can’t rely on the goodwill of a few staff. If one or two key staff go, without being replaced, sport and other provision should not suffer. Recruitment, retainment and remuneration is key to not only maintaining provision but also broadening it if at all possible. I’m sorry to hear this is the case at your current school. I think we are one or two staff away from that but I can see it coming. Good luck in your new job.

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  2. I know it’s not the point of my post, but how I use “academic” to describe a discipline is if excellence in the discipline is characterised by further study. So the greatest success in maths is to become a mathematician and study maths more. The greatest success in history is to become a historian and study history more. Whereas, by contrast, although music or sport can be studied to a high level, we would probably identify excellence in the discipline with playing music or sport well, not studying it. This is not meant to be a value judgement. It’s a distinction between types of subject, not the value of them. It seems to work as a rule of thumb, I also think that a lot of damage is done trying to make the academic subjects less academic, and the non-academic studies more academic. Both are valuable for what they are.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Andrew. I do appreciate it. I feel personally that I have to justify my subject and my existence to other subjects. When they say PE isn’t ‘academic’ I feel they use it as insult, but that could be my emotions kicking in as I’m sensitive about the subject. You’re right about the damage being done, and valuing subjects for what they are and what they offer. I take my responsibilities as a teacher seriously, even more so now I’ve decided to stay in teaching. I need to just be aware that when people say my subject isn’t academic, at least in core PE, they aren’t necessarily being personal. I’m sure of the benefits my subject can bring, I’ve just got to keep promoting that within my school.

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  3. Unfortunately, this is a consequence of narrowing education into ‘schooling’ (as Mick Waters puts it) and we don’t consider sports or other activities as ‘extra’ but a part of the curriculum we offer (so they are termed as co-curricular) so people are given time allowances to make it happen. Yes, we also rely on goodwill but if it is important, then schools will find a way to make it happen. My question is whether sport is taken seriously in your school. I hope you share your concerns with the leaders and ask for some help (substantive help) to overcome the problem. If the support is not forthcoming, then you at least know where you are and will have to make peace with your choices thereafter.

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    1. It has been a constant battle to get SLT and the Governing body to understand. They are hugely supportive of what we do, and feel they have let sport down within the school. Their answer though is to seek funding for new facilities and resources. Whilst this is desperately needed and I welcome the decision to make sport a big part of the school development plan, what they fundamentally miss is that that big plan falls down if their are no staff to run activtities and teams. Provision always boils down to culture and staff and this, not facilties and resources is what they need to develop and rectify first. The Head has asked me to go on a fact finding mission. I have done so and will deliver my report to the Governing Body next half of term. I need to make it clear what is important without being ungrateful for the support they have started to show sport.

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  4. […] I once wrote that Paul was a dying breed of teacher. The academic member of staff in a state school who saw the value in school sport, but more than that who didn’t just pay it lip service. That even through the pressures and strains placed on him to deliver his subject and ensure no child failed, he made time to run a school team. […]

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