Building Personal Responsibility in School Sport


One of the most time consuming aspects of my job as a Director of Sport is dealing with parents, especially if the issues relate directly to their son. Within a normal week I probably have to deal with 4 to 5 issues relating to team selection for school sport. What takes up most of my time though is not dealing with the issue but the misunderstanding that occurs within them.

Normally a child who is upset about team selection goes home and tells their version to parents. The parents, who then have their own interpretation, contact me. We engage in either a long email or phone call conversation. Following this requires me to then speak to the pupil in question, find out what the real issues are and then rectify them. This could be more efficiently dealt with if the child came to me, or the coaches first.

This term for football we have introduced a ‘no parental communication policy‘ only if it is with regards to team selection. Obviously parents can let us know their son is upset, in fact we encourage that, but we will only discuss selection policy and decisions relating to teams directly with their son. We have informed both parents and students via email, school newsletter and the school website that if the issue is with regards to team selection then their son must talk to their coach directly. I have also asked coaches where possible to speak to students in advance if they are not being selected or  are going to dropped and explain the reasons why. However this can be difficult when we have squads of 40 or 50 for training, so we are actively encouraging personal responsibility and putting the emphasis on the child.

There have been no complaints so far about this policy from parents over this half term. As result we are beginning to have a lot more conversations with pupils then we have ever had before, either verbally or via email. Students are now finding us at break time or lunch to ask us how they get get in the team. This has lead to some deeper discussions with students about strengths and  areas of improvement. It is developing our feedback as coaches when justifying team selection. It has also made coaches becoming more accountable for team selection. I thought I would share the most recent email my department has received from a student:

Dear Sir,

I would first like to say that the following email is not intended in any way to reflect negatively on the selections of you or anyone else in the games department. I am simply very eager to represent my school and feel that this is the best way to get my point across to you as the selector of the 2nd and 3rd XIs. I hope that you will take the time to read this email and take on board my input.

I believe that I should be playing regularly in the thirds this season. I have 10 (yes, ten) reasons why I think you should pick me.

1. Experience

In my time playing for the school, I have only ever represented the ‘A’ team, twice on the bench, the rest of the time in the starting 11. As a result, my sudden demotion to the fourth team seems a little extreme as I think that I should be playing at a higher level. I have spent this football season playing in Division 1 in an under-18 league, three or four divisions above some of the 3rd team squad. I have been ever-present in my club side this season, and therefore feel I should not be overlooked.

2. Aerial Ability

Firstly, I feel that I am strong in the air. It has been highlighted to me that the third team particularly struggled when defending aerial threats (set pieces and long balls were apparently a particular problem) and I believe I can strongly contribute to an improvement in this area, especially with both offensive and defensive set pieces. I possess good height, have a high leap, and (without trying to sound arrogant) have been told by my peers that I am one of the best headers of the ball around. In one game, I was able to head a football over half of the length of the pitch. I am very able to anticipate the trajectory of the football and will, 98% of the time, make my headers.

3. Speed

One thing that goes without question is that I possess a great amount of pace. This is particularly beneficial when playing a high line; if an attacker gets in behind the back four, I have the speed to catch him and win the ball before he is able to get a shot on goal. This is an important commodity at school team level; games are usually open and end-to-end, so players with pace are crucial.

3. Strength

I also feel that I am a strong player. In 50/50 challenges or aerial duels, I will usually come out on top, as I am able to use my upper body strength to jockey players and force them off the ball. It also means that I am proficient at shielding the ball when it is going out for a throw-in or goal kick.

4. Tackling

Another problem highlighted to me about Wednesday’s performance was that some rather dangerous challenges were made, and on occasion opposition players were able to waltz through our defensive line. I am the sort of player who will almost always win his tackle. I tend to trying to jockey players and try to time my tackling opportunity, rather than be rash and dive in, risking being caught out of position. A player who can keep a cool head in these situations is important for the success of a football team.

5. Penalties

Another thing I have heard about Wednesday’s game was that we, regrettably, missed a penalty. In the time I have been playing 11-a-side football I have a 100% penalty success rate, and while I appreciate that this is not an important attribute in a defensive player, it is always nice to know that the option is there if need be.

6. Decision Making

I feel that when out on a football pitch, I am a good decision maker. If I win a ball in defence, I will try to play it out to a midfielder if I can, but I always put safety first, and if under pressure I am more than happy to put a foot through the ball. It is very rare that I will lose the ball in a dangerous position. I also rarely get caught out of position, judging the game’s situation and adjusting my play accordingly.

7. Communication

One thing that all my teachers will certainly admit is that I’m very loud. This means I have the vocal ability to talk to all the players on the pitch, and I always call for the ball to prevent confusion. This also enables me to have a good control of the back line, allowing us to play the offside trap to great effect.

8. Versatility

Another thing I am able to do is play anywhere across the back four, and even on the wing if required. While I feel my best position is centre back (where I believe I am a Robert Huth sort of player), I play weekly at full back for my club (I would liken myself to Emmerson Boyce). I am also very strong with both feet, making me very comfortable even playing on the left hand side as a right footer.

9. Consistency

I think that I am a very consistent player. While I may not have any ‘worldies’, you will always get a solid 7/10 performance from me every week. This sort of consistency is key in a defender.

10. Work Rate

The last thing I must say is that wherever I play, and whether I play or not, I always put in 100%, I would even consider myself Milner-esque. If forward for corners, you will always see me as the first player back in the event of a counter attack; I never stop running.

I apologise if I am wildly off-base with this email, but I am incredibly passionate about representing the school and helping in any way I can, and have a great love for the beautiful game. I know that you pick the team, but I needed to send this in order to inform you of my availability and give you a selection dilemma. I hope I have not appeared as if I am being rude to your selection ability and am not intending to appear arrogant or as if I expect to be walking straight into the team, but I really feel that I can contribute a lot to the school’s cause. I would love a chance to prove myself to you, but obviously, that is a chance that only you can give me.

I hope that you have a pleasant weekend. I hope that you have time to speak to me on Monday to discuss what I can be doing to improve and make the team.

Kind Regards,


The policy has put the responsibility of development and improvement on the pupil. If not selected they are encouraged to find us and seek out what they can do to improve. Telephone calls and emails from parents regarding team selection have significantly decreased (non in the last month). Conversations with students have increased and this may have a positive impact on development in the future. My one major concern is that younger pupils might not necessarily be telling anyone, including their parents, about issues. This is something we as a department need to review to ensure we do not put them off representing their school in sport. I’d be interested to hear how other departments deal with upset pupils and parents with regards to selection for school sport teams.


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