Home' Teacher : May 2010 Contents THE REFLECTIVE PRINCIPLE 69
Sport is a serious business -- just look at its
media coverage and the amounts we pay
our top sports people -- but is sport a criti-
cal element in the education of our young?
According to the playing-fields-of-Eton argu-
ment, the answerisyes.That argument, as the
historian Sir Edward Creasy told the story,
originated when the Duke of Wellington, an
Eton College old boy, was watching Eton in
a cricket match. 'There grows the stuff that
won (the Battle of) Waterloo,' Wellington
said. Creasy didn't say who won that match:
the point, you see, was that the Duke was
referring to the importance of sport in the
development of character and leadership.
Eton College itself is quite clear that sport
is important in developing positive qualities.
As the website explains, referring to 'games,'
of course, not 'sport,' 'Learning to win and
lose, to lead and be led, to push oneself to
and perhaps beyond one's limits, to think
as part of a team, to know when to strive
for more and when to acknowledge defeat;
these are all part of learning to be human.'
Equally, of course, sport can do the opposite
when children's self-esteem is damaged by
forced participation or poor choice of sport.
When we use the word sport, are we all
talking about the same thing? Does sport
have to be competitive, team oriented and
physical? Scrabble, say, or chess can teach
strategy, planning, learning to win or lose,
in fact most of the qualities mentioned on
the Eton website.
We also have to consider how sport
compares in importance to literacy and
numeracy, or geography and history, or
technology. Will testing in sport appear in
the results published in the next iteration of
the My School website?
There's an argument that sport con-
tributes to society in general. According
to Sport England, an organisation that
aims to develop and sustain participation
in grassroots sport, research indicates that
sport in the com munity leads to: crime
reduction; the economic regeneration of
local communities; education and lifelong
learning; increased participation in com-
munities; improved physical fitness and
health; improved psychological health and
wellbeing; and increased social capacity and
cohesion. That's an impressive list. If sport
delivers all this, perhaps we should be giving
it much more time in the curriculum.
Another argument is that sport con-
tributes to improved school performance.
A healthy body leads to better cognitive
functioning and can provide valuable devel-
opmental experiences although, as Sport
England's 'Value of Sport Monitor' warns,
'current research into the nature of the rela-
tionship between participation in physical
activity/sport and educational performance
has produced mixed, inconsistent and often
According to the Western Australian
Department of Sport and Recreation (DSR),
participation in sport and recreation pro-
vides clear benefits in the five Australian
national health priorities, namely: promot-
ing better mental health; cardiovascular
disease prevention; diabetes prevention
and control; the primary prevention of some
cancers; and injury prevention.
The DSR also believes that active sport
participation has another benefit: diverting
young people from crime and antisocial
behaviours. According to a statement on the
DSR website, 'It can also target those young
people most at risk of com mitting crime and
help their rehabilitation and development.'
Ifwe assume that sport is critically impor-
tant, could we then think about schools as
beinglocations primarily for sport? After all,
sport needs specialist facilities and physical
communities whereas academiclearning can
potentially occu r anywhere and at any time,
supported by physical and virtual learning
communities. We already have some spe-
cialist sport schools, but so far they haven't
replaced the primary or high school.
The recent movie, Invictus, which tells
the story of the work by South Africa's
new President Nelson Mandela and rugby
Springbok captain Francois Pienaar to
unite a divided nation, illustrates the power
of sport. 'Sport,' Mandela said in 1996,
'has the power to unite people in a way
little else can. Sport can create hope where
there was once only despair. It breaks
down racial barriers. It laughs in the face
of discrimination.... Sport is probably the
most effective means of communication in
the modern world.'
The soccer World Cup next month may
well prove him right. In schools, mean-
while, we need to question our assump-
tions, but we also need to be putting sport
to the test and, as researchers like to say,
more research is needed. T
Sport England. (2009). The value of sport:
education and life long learning. Available
of_ sport_ monitor. a spx
Western Australian Department of Sport
and Recreation. (2010). The value of sport
and recreation. Available at ww w.dsr.
David Loader is an education consultant
and Associate Professor in the Faculty of
Education at the Unive rsity of Melbourne.
His latest book is Jousting for the New
Generation: Challenges to contemporary
schooling, published by ACER Press. Email
A sporting chance
IF SPORT CONTRIBUTES SO MUCH TO OUR STUDENTS AND SOCIETY, MAYBE WE SHOULD
BE GIVING IT MORE TIME IN THE CURRICULUM, SAYS DAVID LOADER.
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