Class Action: Sport for children

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2012, 11:16am

My family enjoyed watching the Olympic Games. Both my children are sporty but their school doesn't seem to encourage competitive sport. How is this is going to help my children develop a competitive attitude or produce Olympic athletes of the future?

The Olympic Games has, in Britain at least, inspired the government to increase the profile of Physical Education in the curriculum.

Politicians have pledged to end the culture of "prizes for all", and have said they will encourage "proper" sports days with awards for outstanding individual achievement.

This is good news for schools, as sport is good for children's mental and physical health. It has shown to be hugely beneficial for a child's well-being to do an hour of physical activity every day.

Less than 10 per cent of children actually achieve this. Having an active lifestyle is even more important today, as child obesity has become a real problem. Children often spend many sedentary hours in front of computer screens.

The benefits of playing competitive sports are enormous. They teach discipline, increase determination and stamina, and encourage children to push themselves to their physical limits.

Competitive team games engender teamwork, co-operation and many other crucial life skills.

There has been a growing trend in many schools towards encouraging "sport for all". Some would argue that this recent attitude is at the expense of the high fliers.

Those of us who are enthusiastic about sport know there's no real substitute for fierce, high-level competition to improve our game, or make us sprint faster.

As in every area of the curriculum, the emphasis should be on each pupil being pushed to reach their full sporting potential. That's no different to pushing a talented musician to play in the school orchestra, or an excellent mathematician to study in an accelerated maths group.

It is important that children who are not naturally athletic, or good at P.E., are given opportunities at school to enjoy sport and feel a sense of achievement and success.

P.E. lessons can be differentiated so all children have a chance to work at their own level. Varied and flexible groupings allow less able children to compete against those of similar ability in both individual and team sports. This gives them a chance to participate and succeed, rather than be constantly overshadowed.

Able children should be given frequent opportunities to have a high level of competition. Mixed ability groups are also appropriate at times where able sportsmen can be good role models for others.

Sports days are a great opportunity for pupils to display their sporting talents. Team races help to build team spirit and allow less able children to enjoy sporting activities in an unpressurised environment.

No child should be humiliated in athletics activities. But it is appropriate to include individual events, or relay races, to give high fliers the chance to excel. This would seem like a fair compromise.

Most schools also have competitive school teams that compete against other schools in sports like netball and football.

This allows the keen and talented to compete if they want to.

Sport can be a boost for non-academic pupils who struggle in the classroom. It can also be an outlet for children with difficult backgrounds.

Competition is an integral part of life, therefore we should not shield children from it. Whether the P.E. curriculum has been watered down so much that pupils are not being challenged is certainly a key question for schools to consider.

It is all about getting a balance which allows able sports children to be challenged, while encouraging all children to enjoy sport.

Julie McGuire teaches at a Hong Kong primary school