I often find myself caught up in discussions about the role that Sport and PE plays for young people and the more I have these conversations, the more I firmly believe that the language we use when entering these discussions matters. It matters a lot.
Let’s take a phrase that I often hear when speaking to pupils, parents and colleagues: “a sporty pupil” (normally preceded by “is” or “is not”). Using that language for a lot of young people conjures up a certain image or stereotype. Depending on the pupil’s experiences to date, this can be a positive, motivating factor as they aspire to achieve their goals in sport and are happy to be described as such; or it can be the exact opposite and create an image of something they cannot identify with and do not want to be. Just to clarify, there is nothing wrong with our girls seeing themselves as ‘sporty’, but recently, I have tried to use the phrase “an active pupil” instead, because that is ultimately what we want our girls to be; both here and in life beyond school. That could be through sport or any regular physical activity. As a PE team, we want the girls to develop the knowledge and confidence to lead an active lifestyle, whatever that may look like for them; any movement is good movement. The positive impacts of leading an active lifestyle are well researched and documented and, regardless of your feelings about sport, you can be active without being “sporty”.
The other issue worth debating is the idea that to be a “sporty” pupil, one must only care about winning. To echo the title of this piece, sport is so much more than that. I am a very competitive person which is often misconstrued as only caring about winning. But the more I reflect on this, the more I have recognised in myself that it is not the winning that motivates me, it is the competing. That is what I love most about playing sport. That is what motivates me to stay active. That is what the PE team strive to instil here at Farnborough Hill: the desire to compete. Whether it is against targets that we set ourselves or an opponent, no matter what event we find ourselves participating in, we can always control our effort and our willingness to compete. I firmly believe that defining ourselves by our effort and attitude is far more valuable and constructive than defining ourselves by winning and losing. An individual or a team can perform to their absolute maximum, they can compete hard and still end up with a loss. It is important to recognise the effort. Effort is controllable and therefore repeatable, which is far more sustainable than relying on winning to motivate.
To finish, I am often asked about the vision for Sport and PE at Farnborough Hill and although the exact words I use often differ, I hope that the message and the intent is consistent. We want to create an environment where we, as staff add value to every girl, and every girl has the chance to earn success, whatever that may look like for them. We want to provide opportunities for girls to be active and to feel confident enough to give their all and compete. If we get that right, then hopefully it will start to become clear that sport is way more than just a game.
Mr Daniel Emery, Director of Sport