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Yes Minister: is politics creating a narrow-mind towards our definition of sport?


Posted by Cags R on 13 January 2012 at 10:03 AM

In the growing light of the Olympic torch the UK's Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has released its strategy for increasing sporting participation in the nation beyond the Olympics. The Habit for Life campaign aims to focus on the decline of sporting activity specifically in teenagers and young adults. To remedy the poor retention numbers in sport the British government intends to build stronger relationships between schools and clubs in order to establish ties for young people in the sporting world outside of their academic environment. In a time of economic struggle, it is - of course - excellent that such a scheme is in place but are the DCMS targeting the right areas of sport in order to gain maximum involvement?

The report highlights how National Governing Bodies will be financed to improve links between schools and clubs in the same region; examples of NGBs given in the report were ‘football, cricket, rugby union, rugby league and tennis’. Considering the target age group is 14-25 year olds it is understandable why the DCMS has chosen sports which are already well-represented in schools. However, where does it leave the student who has already established that they do not connect with these sports? Wouldn't it make more sense to increase the variety of sports offered in schools – which would be easily established by using the same methods the DCMS has already put in place with mainstream NGBs?

Any student at the age of 14 will have already developed their relationship with sport – whether it is positive or negative – and by changing the sports offered in schools it could be a chance to refresh the relationship for those who don’t excel at the predominant sports taught in school. Students who do not enjoy team ball sports would be better off being introduced to new activities rather than continuing in activities they dislike. This could also tackle the issue of the huge drop in sporting participation by girls; approaching local yoga/pilates/kick boxing/cycling clubs and having the coaches come into school to lead classes would expose students to exercises which are currently off the curriculum. It would also take the issue of money out of the equation; a taster yoga class may not seem expensive but for many students paying for it will be a major deterrent – especially now there is no EMA.

The truth is that when those choosing the sporting programme for young people think of the term ‘sport’ what they envisage are team sports. Making sport a Habit for Life would be an easier goal if individual sports were featured in the curriculum so that when the partakers wish to continue after school they don’t necessarily need 30 classmates to make up the teams!

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    This - to me - is such a shame and yet another missed opportunity to get young people in sport (in its widest definition). Rugby, football and other 'school' team games are generally premised on the same basic physical motions - meaning children don't get the opportunity to try more diverse sporting activities like golf, squash, boxing, rowing, climbing and anything that might reveal a good sporting individual who just doesn't happen to like football. In some ways it's more remarkable that British is so good at sports like cycling and rowing, where young people are having to compete in spite of the lack of school-based support.

    Jenna A and Nick B encouraged this.


    Yes, frustrating to see the parochial stance the government continue to take on investing in youth sports participation. Branch out! try something new: new sports, new approaches, look beyond the football pitch! The importance of support and motivation to engage kids with sport, and tapping into what young people like to do already and using that as a lever to get them more active, is so important, and often overlooked imho. I would love to see more of a diverse approach - imagine the endorphins spilling out of a school gym after an hour of zumba, a kick boxing session or a set of fusion fitness challenges... Even better, Tribesports-style leaderboards to see how your class is doing in the Chalenges set for your term against a class of kids in Brazil, France, America - take the support and encouragement global!

    Nick B encouraged this.


    I suppose a better question is: do you think that the education system is anti-individual-sport because political correctness doesn't deem it acceptable to encourage a competitive mentality amongst young people (for every winner, there is a notional loser, after all)?

    Andy B and Nick B encouraged this.


    There are winners and losers in team sports as well though. Individual sports have the benefit of allowing young people to work at their own pace - there need not be a competitive aspect with sports like kick boxing; sparring could be brought into class but it is not necessary when introducing young people to the new sport.

    Nick B encouraged this.


    From personal experience I think part of the problem is that if you aren't involved in sport (outside of P.E lessons) from the very start of school then there aren't many opportunities to "break in" to clubs/teams. By the time (aged 15) that I realised I wan't to be part of the school team (for anything!) it was too late, I'd already missed 3 years of practice and no teachers wanted to someone with no skill or talent joining their established (and very good) teams. It wasn't until I went to University that I was able to get involved by joining a club where everyone was new (women's rugby) and thus it was a level playing field. Since then I've played for several clubs and it's been a great spring board to other sports (along with all the social and emotional benefits). But how many other people who aged 12 wanted to go to the swings with their friends on a Tuesday night instead of hockey practice and never got another chance to be part of the "team" in later life.

    Nick B and Jared S encouraged this.


    I never really got on with team sports at school. Growing up in a rugby town, any non-allegiance to the sport was heavily frowned upon. I developed an almost obsessive passion for cycling when I was 15, but not once was this supported or encouraged by my school. That was almost 20 years ago and it's frustrating to see that little has changed in that regard. In my final year, I had the opportunity to try orienteering thanks to some kind TA soldiers who volunteered to coach about half a dozen kids. The sessions were once a week for six weeks. That was the best 6 days of PE I'd ever had in the 12 years I'd been in school. My point is that just because kids are not good at traditional school sports doesn't mean they are not good at ALL sports. It just means they've not found the right one yet. Experimentation should be actively encouraged by schools, teachers, parents, and government.


    I can't help but agree with your point about the types of sports offered. I was lucky enough to engage in and enjoy the "traditional" curriculum sports at school; pursuing these activities outside of school and into University. I have since moved to a country where these sports are not played; my "Habit" has been restricted. Now imagine that you're 14 and that restriction point comes a lot earlier due to lack of enjoyment, limited opportunities, low attendance etc. The Olympics are the perfect platform for trying to get teens and young people engaged in sports, and a lot of people seem to be making this connection. Annie Thomas, co-ordinator for Hertford and Ware’s School Sports Partnerships, Hertfordshire, has been taking primary school children along to The Lee Valley White Water Centre, Hoddesdon, where the Olympic Canoe Slalom will be taking place. Not only is this the closest many of these children will get to the Olympics but it also gives them exposure to the "new activities" Cags mentions. Many sports in which Brits excel at often go completely under the radar, despite their accessibility to young people. With great role models such as Johanna Jackson in Racewalking, Aaron Cook in Taekwondo and Liam Pitchford in Table Tennis, it seems unfortunate that the DCMS should create a campaign that doesn't take full advantage of this. On a final note I feel it should also be pointed out that with curriculum sports such as Hockey (men and women's) and Netball hugely under-represented on TV and in the media, young people are given little opportunity to see even these sports as anything other than an endurance test on a freezing Thursday afternoon. But that's another debate for another day!

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    The thing is - going back to the team sports issue - even with sports like rugby or football it's very easy to 'miss the boat' as a young person and then never be able to retake that sport up again, largely because there's a perception that standards are too high for beginners. Take rugby for example. It's a sport I would loved to have played, but by the time I got to uni everyone who played rugby was already quite good. There's no 'get into rugby' courses for beginners who are adults. Tastes change, and we're expecting the youth of today to try, find and stick with a sport at such a young age that our education system is putting blinkers on otherwise potentially sportingly-gifted children whose square peg hasn't slotted neatly into the metaphorical round hole (the round hole being football, of course). Terrible!

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    For me, a big part of continuing sports outside school was being part of a club whilst at school - I think stopping sport after school is to do with feeling there's no time for it once you have a 'grown up' job. I think the government is doing good things by forging ties between schools and clubs in order to show young people that sport can be kept in their adult working lifestyles, it's just a shame that there's not more being done to promote more niche sports (after all what makes them niche is perhaps that they are not made readily available!).

    Nick B and Nikos G encouraged this.


    In exactly the same boat as Jonathan, despised sports at school due to the competitive atmosphere and was the skinny weak kid who got picked last. Now every day i'm either going for a run, rope climbing or bouldering, or lifting weights. I've always been into fitness, i used to run to my school which was miles away every day, but was turned off sports by the obsession with football in England and our hugely competitive P.E lessons. It wasn't until i went along with some friends climbing that i realised some sports are for me! So I completely agree, a range of sports should be offerred to children, we don't all like the same hobbies as adults, why should we expect all children to play the same 2 or 3 sports?

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    I agree with jonathan H, kids are hard to get to do anything, whilst I enjoyed sports whilst I was younger, If i was given a second chance I would do so much more. There has to be some blame placed on parents as well, if they had more time for their kids and a bit more creativity they could play/introduce sports to their kids.

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    Great discussion guys and great points. Andrian has made a valid point that it is also and (mostly) the responsibility of the parents. From my perspective I was spoilt for choice at school. I played every sport imaginable and wish i had done a lot more. I was fortunate that I didn't have football and rugby as the only two options with a strangle hold on school sport. there is a real problem in the UK with the dominance of football as the national sport and the media need to wake up to the fact that their constant pandering to the sport has a detrimental effect on other sports. I try constantly to get my two children involved in any sport and with varying success. there have been some disasters - my son gave up football for about 3 years as he was so disillusioned by the whole attitude of coaches, parents, spectators, opposition etc. it actually put him off all team sport - he then got into freestyle football performing tricks and other skills. so it is not all bad news. I must say his school is very good at encouraging activities outside of the school and a lot of the schools in my area do have activities like boxing as a PE option. One final point , i heard somewhere that indoor climbing is the fastest growing sport among girls under 16. now if that is not good news i don't know what is..

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