On Tuesday evening, just over 300 of the school community, gathered to reflect on and celebrate a year of school sport. An informally formal occasion, this was a chance to recognise and reward those pupils who have consistently demonstrated a sense of sportsmanship, reliability, a co-operative attitude towards staff and a record of loyalty and service to school sport. It is also a chance to share pupils journeys in sport outside of the school. The ultimate aim of the evening is to try and create a sense of place and belonging through building a community of movement.
The evening is run for the pupils, by the pupils. Although there are the traditional speeches from teaches and coaches, these are kept brief, apart from the guest speaker. The pupils who compère the evening unceremoniously call time on anyone that runs over this strict time constraint. There is also eating, drinking and merry making throughout the night. However when our guest speaker took to the stage there was instantly a hush, not due to his honoured position as guest speaker, but due to the profundity of his words. He shared three short stories of learning from ‘greats’ through a career spent in high performance sport. One of an athlete, one of a coach and one of a team.
Whilst I will not be able to do his speech the justice it deserves, I am able to offer the wisdom he has gleaned from his experiences.
From a multi medal winning athlete he learnt that it wasn’t the winning of the medals that made her great, but it was the way in which she won them. Achieved by embracing and living a code that ‘striving is more important than winning’. That once she figured that out, not only she was a better athlete, but a better person for it. That in sport, at any level, our expectations are the real measure of our success. What made this athlete the best our guest speaker has ever known, was that she approached every campaign as a chance to learn something else about herself. This for me is at the core of the experience we should be offering through school sport. As vehicle for education, not just in the traditional sense, but as an education of ourselves.
From a multi medal winning coach he learnt that one of the best gift you can give to someone else is to find a way to express your belief in them. The coach did this with other coaches, support staff and of course the athletes. For the athletes he worked with this was a combination of being evidence based in his approach, but still asking them to ‘trust their bodies’ within that process. The balancing and blending of science togther with human behaviour. For our guest speaker this was achieved by being asked to run the final training session on a camp, in his first week on the job, without supervision but obviously with trust. The coaches approach is rooted in setting a high level of challenge and supporting those around him to rise to the challenge rather than telling them what to do.
From a muti-championship winning team he learnt that a clear purpose and openness to sharing was a key ingredient to their success. That competition can’t exist in a vacuum, that there must also be cooperation, especially to reach the highest of levels. When asked why a winning team would be willing to allow others, including their direct opposition, to come and observe and take away whatever they had learnt there was a simple but deep answer “we can’t be our best until you’re your best”.
I had wrongly assumed he would talk to us about winning in sport. However his three stories demonstrated that there is a whole lot more to sport than just winning. That the best athlete, coach and team that he had worked with had learnt that it’s attending ‘to all this other stuff’ that makes you truly great and also, paradoxically, builds a foundation that makes it more likely that you’ll win. Our guest speaker reminder us that when Seb Coe opened the London Olympics in 2012 he said that there’s a truth to sport that makes it compelling to take part in and compelling to watch because in every sport you’ll see all that matters in life. He didn’t say sport is compelling because people win stuff, he said sport is compelling because it contains all that matters in life. “All that matters in life, matters in sport”. His final words I did not forget and they will in future act as a guiding compass for me whenever engaging in school sport:
“So whatever sport you do and whatever level you do it at, I urge you to use your engagement in sport to learn how to be a better version of yourself and to let the outcomes take care of themselves.“