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School Sports -- Should it be for all or just for the chosen few?

(40 Posts)
EllenMP Thu 26-May-11 11:17:10

My son is at a state primary school in Year 5. Parents at my son's school have complained for years about school sports policy. There is not enough provision for all the keen athletes so the chosen few do everything and the rest get left out. Humiliating and counterproductive, and happening in virtually every sport at the school. I am trying to effect a change towards inclusion, but it's like turning an ocean liner.

It would help to have a sense of how things are run at other primary schools, so I would know whether the cut throat attitude of the Head of PE is the norm or is as out of date as I think it is.

A couple of months ago I spoke to the Head of PE about including more of the boys in the football teams and she said it wasn't worth her time to take the team to a match if they weren't going to win. Seriously, direct quote. I spoke to the headteacher (in the meantime, the PE head put my son on the team, possibly to shut me up, but it won't work!) who said she had to support her head of PE as long as she was upholding school policy. I said school policy needed to be changed then and she said she would think about it and discuss with the teachers. I don't think anything will be done though, as the head of PE has been there for ages and has a very strong personality. I am thinking of going to the governors next.

Does anyone have any advice about this? Maybe some materials I could use to back up my case? Getting good stuff from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers already, but more ideas would be fantastic. Here is the situation as it stands:

The school prides itself on its good sports results and the head of PE believes the good results justify a completely ruthless attitude to team selection. Personally, I think it's mainly an ego trip for her more than anything.

The school sports teams are chosen for each match and then posted on a bulletin board for all to see. No attention is paid to effort or commitment, or trying to encourage all children to participate. Children end up feeling humiliated if their name is conspicuously absent from the list, losing confidence in themselves, and losing interest in even trying. Some sports have regular training sessions to which anyone can come and then the coach chooses the teams from the attendees. But the same children get in the team each time and the ones who are left out stop going eventually because it's just a source of humilation and they realize they aren't going to be chosen.

For the sporty children (especially for boys, many of whose social interactions are wrapped up in sports) if your friends and teammates are chosen to play in a match you feel genuinely humiliated as well as disappointed. And your friends feel guilty for being chosen when you weren't. Not nice for anyone, and completely avoidable.

The school has received the sports mark, whatever that means, so I think they believe they are doing things right. Meanwhile, excellent players are losing confidence from being told they don't measure up, older/larger children in the year group are consistently favoured over smaller/younger ones, and players who are just keen to have a go won't take the risk of trying for fear of not measuring up.

We have an obesity crisis in this country, with our children lolling in front of screens all day instead of developing a love of exercise to take into their adult lives. Sport is a great opportunity to teach children that if they practice something they will improve, that it feels good to achieve that improvement, that hard work pays off, that teamwork brings success and that physical activity is fun. Teaching these important things only to the naturally gifted seems frankly stupid to me.

There are kids like my son who love sport, and will make it a part of their lives right into adulthood. There are kids (like my other son!) who hate sport and will not make it a part of their lives no matter what. Then there is the vast middle ground: kids who are keen but not terribly coordinated. Kids who like sports but not contact sports, kids who have some ability but are the only one of their friends who want to play sports. To my mind, this big middle chunk is where most resources should be allocated. They are the ones who could be nudged in the right direction with a little well crafted encouragement. And they are the ones who are put off completely by a cut throat attitude.

I've watched these kids play football for 6 years now, and to be honest there is not a great deal of difference in ability amongst the really keen ones, who number about half the boys in the year. Some are a bit better than others, but not markedly so, and really any random 11 would be about as good as any other 11, assuming you have a decent goalkeeper. So there is really very little purpose in only letting the biggest ones play for the school. All it does is put off both good players and children who aren't too great but should be encouraged to enjoy sport.

All I'm saying is that a list should be kept of which kids show the commitment to come to the training sessions and work hard, and that these children should be assigned in turns to play in matches. This will be self-limiting -- only the ones who care enough to come to all the trainings will be in the running, and everyone will get a turn. Presto -- no hurt feelings and no irate parents. And I don't honestly think they would lose any more matches that way.

Sorry to go off on one, but I feel sure there is a better, fairer, more educational and equally competitive way to run things.

If you have an idea of how things should be run or how to get the school to change the policies, I would be very glad to hear it!

neverforgethowmuchiloveyou Thu 26-May-11 11:21:34

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

neverforgethowmuchiloveyou Thu 26-May-11 11:24:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

RAlover Thu 26-May-11 11:28:32

Will watch this thread with DD asked me is she could go to athletics club, but it is "invitation only".
I said, if she really wanted to go, she should ask her PE teacher, thus outting the onus on him to explain why she hadn't been invited.
Don't get me wrong, she is crap not particularly sporty grin but she does love running, and I feel all kids should have a go!

edam Thu 26-May-11 11:29:40

I agree with you. Bad enough to have this attitude at secondary but at primary, fgs?

Suggest you have a rootle around the Dept for Education website - there must be some policies and guidance on this.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 26-May-11 11:30:23

I haven't read every word of the OP as it was a bit long...but anyway:

DDs primary did a lot of sports. They regularly had teams/individuals competing at local, regional and national level.

They had clubs for the various sports, which everyone was encouraged to join. The teams would be picked from these. In most sports there would be an A and B team - sometimes a C as well. They were all encouraged to do their best and enjoy it. And as I've said, this approach produced good competitive results.

Sports Day was team based. Everyone was in one or two events - the best athletes would be in the 100m but there would also be 80 or 60m; there would be events like sack relay and a cumulative jump, which were for the less able, but every event contributed to the team performance, every event was wildly cheered along 'Come on <housename.' The culminating event was inter-house tug-of-war, in which the hefty were valuable.

There you go. Inclusive yet producing excellence.

munstersmum Thu 26-May-11 11:39:49

I know a yr6 teacher who chooses the football team on the basis of attendance at training, good attitude & not arguing with the ref.

Sport in school is important but I think we've all got to get our kids doing something outside school. That could be in a local team or not. My nephew played in something like division 10 of the under whatevers sunday morning league because he was keen but hopeless needed more time to develop his skills.

StillSquiffy Thu 26-May-11 11:48:13

Your post makes no sense at all. Your thread title suggests that the school is only let some children play sports and refusing to let others play any sports, but the body of your thread is saying that all the children play the sports, but only the best in each sport are selected to compete against other schools? Which (unless I am really living in a magical world all of my own) is surely how every single 'A' team is selected in most schools? Then the people who are not quite as good but are really really keen end up in the B and C teams and get all the same competitive opportunities.

Are you saying that your school doesn't have B and C teams? Then that's an issue. But if you are saying that the children need to take turns on an 'A' team even if they are not very good then sorry I totally disagree. competitive sports are all about learning to how to win gracefully and learning how to lose gracefully, and if you have a couple of less able kids rotating through then the other children could well gang up on them and 'blame' them for losing games.

If the school doesn't have the resources to support B and C teams etc then that is something to discuss with the head/governers, because it will be divisive and is not healthy.

EllenMP Thu 26-May-11 12:14:49

Thanks to Munstermum and GrimmertheGnome for some examples of good practice, to Edam for your suggestion re DoE website and to others for moral support!

Just in quick reply to the last post: the school often sends an A team and sometimes a B team but never a C team. It's three forms and oversubscribed, so an A team is nowhere near enough to accommodate all the committed, full-on enthusiasts, let alone encourage the wavering. In football at least, a B team would just about provide enough spaces for all the ones who really care, IF they added a couple more players to each team. Most competitive sports teams use three or more subs anyway. Instead, they take most of the boys who are dead keen and leave 3 or 4 out completely, making them feeling singled out and humiliated.

If they took, say 3 subs instead of 1, they could avoid the hurt feelings and give everyone at least a half to play, but the head of PE refuses to compromise her win-at-all cost principles to accommodate the best interests of the, uh, children.

My son plays for a club in a typical competitive youth league, as well as in a Saturday morning fun league. Having three or four (or even 5 or 6) subs is manageable for those teams, so I don't see why the school's rosters couldn't be stretched to fit the size of the group. No one would be unhappy about being a B instead of an A, or even a C for that matter, as long as they get to play, and no one would be humiliated about playing only half of the match either -- all the boys who play club football know that's perfectly normal.

A desire to move up from one team to another would be a good motivator to work hard. The problem is that some children don't get to put the shirt on at all, so after a few humiliating trips to the bulletin board they give up, which is a crying shame, especially as the biggest children are always favoured.

I am told that they take as many teams as they can but resources are limited. However, no use whatsoever is made of parents or other volunteers who could take children to matches or serve as referees or coaches.

I think it's important to draw a distinction between what the CHILDREN are trying to do when they go to a match (win) and what the ADULTS are trying to do (teach.) Adults doing the children's job leave's no one doing the adults job.

generalhaig Thu 26-May-11 12:34:08

well ... they could go down the route which my son's primary has taken which is to choose the children at random, with the result that they ALWAYS lose every single match, come bottom in every single tournament

it's a miserable experience for all concerned, but hey, it's inclusive hmm

EllenMP Thu 26-May-11 12:45:57

Interesting, generalhaig -- do they choose them from all the children? Or from all the children who put the hours in at the extra training sessions?

EllenMP Thu 26-May-11 12:48:34

At my stepsons' private primary they chose the teams ruthlessly and STILL got creamed in every match. Possibly a collection of natural athletes does not always a team make?

luckylavender Thu 26-May-11 13:12:13

The answer HAS to be B, C and even D teams (which they have at my son's school). The argument that enthusiastic kids should get a game regardless of ability, at any age, is ludicrous and one I hear often. You would not give parts in a play to someone with no ability, at any age, so why should this be different.

generalhaig Thu 26-May-11 13:18:15

No it's completely random so you can have kids who hate football and never play representing the school while the boys who love playing and are v good get left out

CarrotsAreNotTheOnlyVegetables Thu 26-May-11 13:20:22

MY DSs school has 6 teams per year for football, rugby & cricket - and every boy in the year plays regular fixtures against other schools for their team.

There is still room for excellence - the top teams regularly win national tournaments. But every boy gets the chance to feel proud of playing for his school.

Even in the A teams a number of substitutes are taken along and everyone takes their turn to swap out, even the best players. And they still win most of their matches.

The difference is a very committed PE staff who are willing to put the work in to make sure every boy at the school enjoys sport.

Ellen, sounds like your PE teacher just wants to take shortcuts to make himself look good by winning matches. He has forgotten that his job is to encourage a love of sport in ALL pupils. I would point that out to the governors.

wordfactory Thu 26-May-11 13:26:38

To be fair DC's schools do usually put out the same A team and these children will be the best players. However, B C and D teams will alos get matches so everyone gets a turn.

Year five is seven a side in footie I think so most schools could field an A nd B. It just means the sports teachers have to put in the effort to organise it.

Collaborate Thu 26-May-11 13:33:18


All power to you!!!!

My son is in the middle bracket you describe - keen but uncoordinated. School sports should be about getting everyone involved. Perhaps there is a halfway house here, and there could be a number of teams reflecting different abilities? My son likes playing in certain groups, when he knows that others will pass to him and let him kick the ball now and again. In other groups he won't get a look in. As well as the teacher's attitude (which stinks) you'll need to change the attitude of the other children.

Good luck with the governors. In my experience they're a waste of space.

GrendelsMum Thu 26-May-11 14:42:09

So it sounds like the solution you want is to regularly take an A, B and C team to play other schools?

I wonder whether there might be some practical difficulties to overcome, if you're looking at taking two or three teams to play each match? Would their be issues around transport, numbers of adults, having sufficient pitches to play 3 matches on, and finding other schools with 'C' teams to play against? If you've come up with solutions to these problems already, you might be in a stronger situation to put your points forward. You mentioned that transport had been identified as an issue - would all the parents need to be CRB checked? Are there time issues in terms of getting sufficient reliable parents signed up to do transport for each match and finding last-minute replacements?

GrimmaTheNome Thu 26-May-11 14:42:22

generalhaigs case is even worse. Its either misguided ideology or sheer laziness on the part of the teachers, I guess.

CarrotsAreNotTheOnlyVegetables Thu 26-May-11 15:06:16

Grendels, DS's school do this with six teams so they have managed to overcome the practical difficulties. Though I think it is probably easier for them than most schools.

I would think that it could be done, with some effort and support from parents.

EllenMP Thu 26-May-11 15:41:25

Wow, thanks everyone for the feedback. General Haig's school's system does sound totally demoralizing -- I'm sure it pleases no one. I think taking more teams but grading them into A, B, C etc., sounds like the way forward.

My son's school has houses and they play interhouse matches, but he says its completely pointless because half the players don't even want to play and are not even trying. Plus its mixed, so the girls who might have given it a good go without the boys bossing them just stand around instead, and the boys get frustrated because they are trying to play a match with half the team standing around doing nothing. So the team with the most boys inevitably wins, which does nothing to combat gender stereotypes in their impressionable brains! Yet when you complain about some children getting sports opportunities and not others, they point to the interhouse sports as if that is an equivalent experience.

Thanks for mentioning the practical stuff too -- yes I'm sure that parents organized by the school would have to be crb checked, though I think if they took the children by bus I think it would be fine for only one chaperone to be crb checked as long as they stayed together. We have four other primary schools in walking distance, though, too. Lots of mums come along to watch the matches, so transport should be doable. I've seen dads whom I know to be involved in coaching and reffing club soccer standing on the sidelines at school matches, so I'm sure help would be forthcoming on those fronts too. Does anyone's school use parents in this way and can you tell me how it works?

Yes, a committed PE staff would be a great thing. All we have is a rockhard PE head (female, btw) who also carries a full teaching load, assisted by a few young blokes who come in to do a specific sport with minimal commitment. Interestingly, the PE program itself is pretty inclusive, even Sports Day. It's just the interschool sports that are run this way.

Lastly, I have to say in response to LuckyLavender: Yes, if I were casting a school play, I would absolutely give a part in the play to every child who tried out. Not a major part maybe, but I would certainly include everyone who was brave enough to have a go. I used to work in theatre, and I can tell you that acting is as much learned as innate, and I would never pass up the opportunity to increase a child's confidence by giving them a chance to do something they've never done before. Acting (like competitive sport) requires confidence, but it also builds confidence -- so the not-naturals get as much out of it as the naturals. I wouldn't apply this principle to adults, of course, but surely the school has a equal duty of care to each child.

Onceamai Fri 27-May-11 06:35:35

I'm sorry - I have one sporty and one non sporty child. The bit about your post I really don't understand is the bit about a team comprising the less competent children just so they are included. You cannot win without the best players in the team. If the match is against another school or in a league what is the point of fielding a team that can't compete. Life is tough and children and adults have to compromise. It is a very important lesson. Also how do very sporty children raise their game to possible represent the county or the country if they are not playing to a high standard which will not happen in the arrangements you describe. I would be very cross in repsect of my sporty child if that were the case. Should we impose it on the selection of the UK's Olympic squad and see how many medals we win or let less bright children go to medical school so they don't feel left out.

shortround Fri 27-May-11 08:39:29

slightly different to school, but My sons successful rugby team had quite a few new recruits last summer, to mean they now have enough boys for an A & B team. The coaches wanted a 1sts and a 2nds, however the parents all felt that at under 10 level, its all about development. (Me included and I am Mrs competitive)

We felt the B team would more than likely get hammered every week, which isnt exactly going to develop anyone! and at the moment it is all about building and developing a team for those who want to continue to senior rugby. So we managed a compromise with the coaches (who basically just want to win ever week) for tournaments and the local derby games, we do play an A team, but for regular weekend fixtures we play a mix, giving every one a run out and chance to shine.

a few parents of the B players did say they didnt think it fair that thier child was obviously going to miss out on the bigger games, but there are plenty of fixtures through the year for them to shine and derby games are 2 in a season if that. (and as another poster stated, a team has to have reserves)

EllenMP Fri 27-May-11 08:48:22

Well, I think having A, B and C teams will not produce the result you are talking about, and I think a distinction has to be drawn between children, whom we are teaching, and adults, whom we are asking to represent us.

Also, sports skills are as much learned as innate -- I have seen highly motivated but totally uncoordinated boys develop into capable football players when given the same opportunities to work hard learning and practicing their skills. They may not be professional material, but they are no liability on the pitch either. Any seriously talented boys are certainly not going to develop to county level (let alone country level) playing school sports -- they will be playing for a club anyway, which will be giving them the intensive training needed to compete at that level.

I have a non-sporty 7 year old too, who couldn't care less and would not put the effort in. There would be no point whatsoever in putting him on a football team and I am not suggesting it. I have a very sporty 10 year old who will always play sports and picks up skills easily. Then I have two stepsons who kind of liked sports but were put off by never getting in the team. These two were not too bothered by it, but it would have been great to have given them a positive attitude instead of a negative one to sports and it wouldn't have been difficult to do. Then I have one dyspraxic stepson who loved sports but was never put on teams. He was continually disappointed by being left out and the teams got creamed every week anyway.

I think this goes to the purpose of school sports, which to my mind is to intill an enjoyment of physical activity and as much physical capability as possible in all the children. I don't think it's a breeding ground for county or country sports stars.

I take your point that the more able athletes will resent carrying the less able ones, but there is a continuum of ability, and in team sports the spirit of the team matters too.

senua Fri 27-May-11 09:52:10

"My son's school has houses and they play interhouse matches, but he says its completely pointless because half the players don't even want to play and are not even trying."

We have an inter-house cup and it works well because they are motivated by House pride. It is not purely sports-based, it encompasses other skills too, so it is really inclusive and everyone gets a chance to shine at something. Obviously the pool of players is restricted for inter-house so it tends to be truncated forms of games (5-a-side for football, 7s for rugby, etc) so that takes out the non-triers.

I think that it might be useful if your school had two separate sports policies. One is that everyone should have a healthy lifestyle, so be inclusive on that. The aim is to get fit, not to compete, so it is whole-class stuff and includes things like running, stamina, agility, strength, etc. The second is the competitive stuff, which in schools usually means team events, where you can be selective. The inter-house is a hybrid of the two policies.

For all your talk of inclusiveness, your postings seems very biased towards boys. Understandably since you have two DS and two DSS but does your master plan cover girls too? (who are more likely to want Policy1 than Policy2). I know the buzz is to be gender-blind and have mixed teams but I know from my DD's experience that boys are not gender-blind and tend only to pass to each other.hmm

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