Celebrating School Sport – Part 2
In my previous post I explained how my school attempts to celebrate school sport. So what are the issues that now come flooding into my mind? I intially couldn’t get to sleep because of the ‘buzz’ of the evening. I now can’t get to sleep because of the worry of whether I have got things right.
Why do we celebrate?
For me it is about bringing the community together; students, their friends, their parents and staff. Specifically in this case to recognise the contributions made by students in representing their school in sport and to share the successes of students in sport out of school. Why do I do this? Well firstly the students themselves wanted a form of recognition. In one sports council meeting a Year 10 boy named George pointed out that he had attended every training session and every match for school in all three of our major sports of rugby, football and cricket. Even when he hadn’t been selected or was ill or injured he had still been to training or the matches. I remember one match he turned up to support his friends on crutches from an injury he had received from skiing. Whilst he played sport not for reward, he pointed out that recognising pupils efforts would be a good thing and appreciated. Secondly I wanted to raise the profile of competitive sport within the school as it was dying a slow death. To show its importance as an educational vehicle to students, staff and parents. Finally I suppose there is a bit of ego at play, I also wanted to have recognition for the PE departments contributions to the wider school life. This gave us a stage to remind people quite how much we do. It was remarkable how many students, parents and staff didn’t realise exactly how much we offer on a weekly basis. On reflection this can make it quite a dangerous thing when it is driven by my ego.
But what about disappointment?
I think this is my biggest concern; what of the students who aren’t recognised for their efforts? Now the competitive streak inside of me immediately answers and says ‘they weren’t recognised because they didn’t meet the criteria’. If they want the recognition then they must aspire to those values that were set. However in reality I know this isn’t the case. There will probably be a few students who will be deeply disappointed on not receiving colours and this may cause resentment. It may even lead to them feeling like they aren’t good enough. I recently read a blog post by Nancy Gedge about rewards being a poisoned chalice and the feelings and turmoil they have caused in one of her children. I would never want to deliberately set out to make someone feel like this, but obviously there will be students who do. In the five years of running this initiative I have only had one child come forward. A Year 13 boy who felt he should have received his colours for rugby. When we sat down and talked about the reasons behind the decision, he understood, but I think it left him feeling quite bitter. I wonder how many other students feel like this but do not come forward? I’d hope that older students would be able to work through the disappointment of not being awarded, and that it spurs them on. I have numerous conversations with younger students who ask what they can do to get their school sports colours. I’d be naive though to think that all students react in this way, even if one of the outcomes of playing competitive sport is to learn how to deal with emotional side of winning and losing.
What is the aim?
The aim of the rewards are threefold. 1. To raise the profile of sport within the school. 2. To showcase success and talent in sport outside the school. Since starting the awards we have found so many students who do incredible things out of school, we would not have known about. 3. To bring the school community together for a evening. We wanted to try and refine what success looks like in terms to school sport, that it isn’t solely about winning, but striving to be the best you can be through participation, commitment and dedication. However am I missing the overall aim of everything my department is providing opportunities for? To encourage students to engage in a healthy and active lifestyle beyond school. The question ‘does this awards night help or hinder that overarching aim’ is one I can not truthfully answer.
Is it always the best, teachers favourites or the most sporty that get recognition?
Looking at the colour winners over the last 5 years, it is clear that it isn’t the ‘best’ at sport or the most talented that have won. It is the students that really commit and show the attributes we want to encourage. I didn’t want to overemphasise success, winning and achievement. I think having the key criteria as a sense of sportsmanship, reliability, a co-operative attitude towards staff and a record of loyalty and service to the School has ensured it isn’t the best always get rewarded.
This has definitely got better. We hold regular open parents coffee mornings where they can come and speak to us about sport provision at the school. These have seemed popular and have allowed us to share our thoughts with parents regarding sport at my school. All students and parents are given a letter that states our expectations. We have now managed to have this placed in the student planner and on the website.
It is through this that our colours stem from. Yes I think all awards are open to subjectivity, especially in something like sport. Even effort is a difficult one to be objective on. It would be easier just to pick successful players in successful teams to reward and celebrate, but we felt that wasn’t inclusive and didn’t help with the overall aim of increasing participation in sport and keeping students involved. I speak regularly to the teachers who coach and remind them of our standards and to select based on students meeting these regularly, no matter if they play or not. it would be interesting to find out if the students agreed or disagreed with who we gave the colours to, but opening that up worries me slightly.
Does the SPOTY award just become a popularity award?
This was a concern at the beginning, especially as there is no voting criteria for the students other than who do you think deserves it the most. The last three winners have definitely not been the popular students within the school. Sometimes if you trust students to do the right thing, they might end of surprising you. Its always been at the back of my head that allowing students to vote for this award may backfire, but they have yet to let me down and disappoint with who they have chosen.
I suppose at the heart of my concern is whether the awards are divisive. Its that there is a condition that must be met to receive an award award. This in turns allows students to succeed or fail, not in the traditional sense of wining and losing a match, but in the actual attributes I want them to achieve. Logic says to me this must be counter-productive. I’m not advocating a ‘rewards for all’ system as my own personal belief is this makes the rewards empty. Children know this, they understand when they receive a reward for something they haven’t met.
Currently my only option would not to have the awards and the awards evening. It would solve many of the problems that are in my head, but at the same time we would lose an event where the school community comes together to celebrate something other than academic success and achievement. What I need is a system, that has been made to recognise those that meet the conditions set, but doesn’t forget about those who don’t. Those students need to be encouraged, motivated and still given unconditional reward through support and patience. We need to ensure that the teachers behaviour and attitude to students who represent the school in sport is not dependent on whether they have received a reward, but that fact they are making the time and the effort to participate in the first place. We need to make sure that attitude is unconditional at all times.
So the questions I leave you with are:
Is it possible to make celebrating sports at school better, unconditional and more inclusive without making it empty and meaningless?
How could I ensure recognition and awards meet the overall aims of keeping students involved and active in school sport throughout their time at school and then beyond?
What do you do to recognise effort, commitment and excellence in sport at your school?