Celebrating School Sport – Part 1
This time of year is always a reflective one for me, probably more so than at beginning of a new academic year. It is a time to take stock; to muse on the past, analyse in the here and now and then plan for the future. It’s also a time for celebration. Christmas, more so than the summer holidays, is one that excites me and also I feel the children. For me it is a perfect time to celebrate school sport.
One of my first tasks on gaining my job as Director of Sport was implementing a system of recognition for those students who commit to representing their school in sport. When I took over I did a whole school survey of students, staff and parents with regards to strengths and weaknesses of the current provision of school sport (as well as PE, House Sport, and recreational clubs) at that time. The feedback I gained was powerful. It became my 5 year development plan for all provision. One of the key issues that arose from students was they felt there was a lack of recognition. Students were committing 7 years of their free time, in some cases to multiple sports, without any form of a tangible thank you. In the five years I’ve been in charge of extra-curricular sport I’ve introduced a number of initiatives with a varying degree of success to try and rectify this.
– Team of the week – as a PE department we chose who was team of the week (house or school). On Monday break time they had ‘tea and cake’ with the Head of the school in the canteen. This didn’t last for long as I think the students felt they were being punished!
– Player of the match award – For all players outside of the senior teams, if their teacher nominated them player of the match, then for the following week they got to wear a 1st XV jersey in training. The junior students really like this.
– End of sports season dinners/BBQ with speeches and awards – in all sports we hold an informal bbq/dinner where all students and parents are invited to attend. Its an excellent way of saying thank you to the students but also to the parents. Every team captain has to make a quick speech and some awards are given out. These have proved very popular.
– Caps/socks for 1st Team debuts – this is something that we have brought in this year. For your senior debut in a school team, the captain awards you 1st team socks, apart from the cricket team which get caps. Initial feedback has been positive.
– Sports trips – something we have been trying to get running for a number of years, but it is difficult, time consuming and hugely expensive and therefore not all can do. We are trying to come up with some cheaper alternatives to make it more inclusive for the families at school.
– Half termly profiles of players on website – we try to celebrate as much as possible what students are doing outside of school and ask parents to share with us what their child is up to. We then write up a review and place it on the school website. Our latest one was about a group of students who completed a cycling challenge at half term.
– Shaking of hands and thanking every individual player for contribution on match days – a simple thing but sometimes we forget to thank the students. After the end of every game the coach is to shake each individual students hand and thank him for their time and effort.
– School sport report in school assemblies and website – sport was never reported on when I arrived at school unless we won a major competition. I make sure that there is a section in each assembly about sport, whether we win or lose. The student council also write an excellent round-up from their point of view on school and house sport and place it on the school website every 2 weeks.
– Twitter feed to report on the commitment and success of our students in both school sport and sport out of school – our senior students and parents really like this. Just make sure you are following your schools policy on sharing names and pictures of students.
However the main thing was the introduction of school sports colours. This is an idea I’ve borrowed from independent schools I have visited as part of my own professional development. Sporting colours are awarded to members of a university or school who have excelled in a sport. Colours are traditionally worn in or on scarves, ties, blazers, gowns, cuff-links, and other items of apparel. I went with ties. (Strangely enough that many students in the school do not like the school uniform but they love collecting different school ties.)
So how can a student gain a school colour? I wanted to ensure it wasn’t awarded for just ‘being really really good’ at a sport. It needed to encapsulate the sort of behaviours we wanted our students to aspire to in sport and ensure it stayed true to our overall aim of being students involved in an active and healthy lifestyle. As a department we wanted to refine what success meant within terms of training and playing school sport and what recognition we wanted to go.
I wanted the colours to be a highly prized public recognition of commitment to school sport.
Therefore all nominees for colours must have shown the following: a sense of sportsmanship, reliability, a co-operative attitude towards staff and a record of loyalty and service to the School. A student who trains, but does not necessarily play for a school side can be awarded colours in recognition of of the above values. Students should not be permitted to feel that they can earn colours at any level simply by playing a particular number of fixtures; their contribution has to be stronger than that.
Nomination and award of colours
All teachers may nominate students for colours. Once I receive these they are considered by a Colours Committee (normally Headmaster, another member of SLT, Subject Leader of PE and by the sports council). Nominations should be made with brief supporting information. All award of colours will include a certificate signed by the Headmaster and countersigned by the Director of Sport. There are three category of colours a student could be nominated for:
Full Colours are for students in Year 11 to 13 who have demonstrated the above values consistently over a number of years. They should also display leadership and a willingness to support the community of sport within the school, for example coaching younger children or refereeing junior fixtures.
Club Colours: are for students in Year 11 to 13 who have demonstrated the above values, in one sport, over the course of the season.
Representative Colours: are for students in Year 8 to Y10 who have demonstrated the above values, in one sport, over the course of at least two seasons.
Each colour was a slightly different tie. Students may be nominated and awarded colours for more than one sport. Students may also be nominated and rewarded colours if they have already received them previously.
Format for delivery
I’ve always enjoyed Sports Personality of the Year for its informal celebratory mood. I thought a similar format would be a good way to award the colours. Once students have been nominated and approved, a letter is sent home inviting them to our School Sports Personality of the Year Awards. They are allowed to bring guests, the younger students tend to bring their families, the older ones tend to bring ‘significant others’. All are sat on tables of 10 and encouraged to to socialise during the event.
Half way through the proceedings we stop for 30 minutes so everyone can indulge themselves in some drinks and a Christmas buffet. Back on their tables, happily munching on cold meats and salads, the awards evening continues.
Heads of different sports make speeches. There is a two minute rule for speeches which is strictly adhered to, then the colours are awarded on stage. We also present awards for ‘Sports Performance of the Year’, ‘Team of the Year’, ‘School Sports Person of the Year’ and ‘Coach of the Year’.
Other than the speeches the whole evening is run by our senior students. They compere the evening, produce wonderful uplifting videos of school sport and entertaining videos at the expense of some of the teachers who coach, all in respectful manner.
Along side these school awards we also run a competition for Sports Personality of the Year. This is voted for by the students themselves and is to recognise sporting effort and success outside of school. So how do we go about arranging that?
In November I hold assemblies to promote the SPOTY awards. Any student, staff member or parent can nominate a student for this award, there is no set criteria other than it must of happened in the calendar year. They must email me directly with a supporting statement on why they should be nominated. This year we had 123 nominations, ranging from a Year 7 student who played in goal for the ‘C’ team for his local football club, when no other child would to finding out we had British Champions in rock climbing, tumbling and trampolining. Only one nomination this year really didn’t fit the criteria; playing 50 consecutive seasons of Football Manager, no matter how impressive, is not something we would promote. The PE department discuss all the nominations and make a short list of 8 for students to vote for. All nominations and the short listed candidates are placed on a display within the PE Department, detailing why they have been nominated. In a second round of assemblies we play a SPOTY video. Our students are creative geniuses and the videos of the shortlisted nominees, detailing their achievements, showing them performing and set to some music is always hugely inspirational. After the videos are shown, only the students are allowed to vote for who they think should be our schools Sports Personality of the Year via survey monkey.
During the evening all 8 nominees are invited on stage and interviewed by our student comperes. They discuss how they got involved in their chosen sport, what sort of commitment it takes to also manage that and their workload, how they achieve a balance in their lives and what advice they would give to others.
Finally we have a guest speaker to hand out the awards and make a speech. It has always been an ex-student and someone who has achieved highly in sport and in their career. Last night was our 5th awards ceremony. This year an ex student had taken up rowing at university and went on to win a bronze medal in a Commonwealth games, whilst at the same time studying for a law degree. His message was not to see decisions made as ‘sacrifices’ when you want something, but as ‘positive choices’ in facilitating what you want to achieve. If you really want something, you can manage it. He told us a story of doing his sprint training session at midnight in the aisle of a 24 hour Tesco supermarket. He needed to go shopping for food and do his session, and this was the only way to fit it in after completing an important essay. I personally feel that these are far better role models for our current students. They understand the same pressures they are under and show them ways they can achieve and stay active. Far more inspirational and aspirational than a Premiership footballer perhaps?
Once again it was a successful night. Students have been recognised for their contribution. Parents see how much staff put into school sport for their children. It brings a community together and celebrates values that I think that are important not just for a lifetime of staying involved in sport, but in general. A pat on the back and a well done. However it has left me completely drained. Sitting here in my empty state, going through conversations I have had recently in school and on Twitter, I begin to question whether all this achieves the aims that I wanted it to do.