Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Sport for all at Canford - Mark Burley, Director of Sport


The recent research quoted in the national press regarding the pressures girls face when trying to participate in sport at school is clearly a valid one for many, but it is something we challenge successfully at Canford. The opportunity to participate in regular sport at Canford is a feature across all the year groups and both genders. Of course, there are some pupils who don't necessarily wish to play competitive sport and in such instances a meaningful involvement in a sport which can be pursued for life is very much the preferred option. Our senior girls and boys have the opportunity to participate in a professionally run exercise programme which includes various gym based activities and also music and dance classes three times a week where challenging choreography and high intensity workouts create a chance to be competitive with oneself. Sports such as badminton, swimming, squash, real tennis and golf are all activities which can be embraced beyond the school walls, well into later life and the take up amongst female pupils is high.  Two of our 1st team four golfers last year were girls and others are coming up through the ranks. We are very fortunate to possess outstanding facilities and the combination of enthusiastic male and female teaching and coaching staff create a positive environment which allows novices and experts across the whole pupil body the chance to develop their skills and fitness. There are certainly competitive opportunities and active encouragement for all pupils who wish to represent the school in these sports but equal scope is given to all those wishing to participate for purely recreational reasons.

The notion of girls suffering from lower levels of self-confidence and esteem within sport might well manifest itself within the traditional masculine areas of strength & conditioning and fitness.  At Canford we have instigated female only sessions for junior girls which have armed these participants with the movement ability and technique to lift weights safely and progressively. This has been so successful that senior girls have the self-confidence to lift alongside their male peers without fear of being patronised or sneered at. The S&C room is very much a gender neutral environment and with young male and female staff leading these sessions the female pupils see themselves as worthy and equal participants. An attitude which is transferable to many other arenas. The anxiety and worries associated with exams are often cited as reasons for girls dropping out of sport and there has certainly been concern from some pupils and parents at wanting more time to study during the summer term. However, such concerns have been represented equally amongst boys and girls and when evaluation of exam performances is carried out it is frequently the highest academic achievers who have also been the keenest sports participants. We actively encourage a balanced approach in an environment where focused academic study is critical but having other outlets including physical ones are essential to pupils’ wellbeing, especially at times of high stress. There is a significant body of evidence reinforcing the importance and value of maintaining a regular programme of exercise and sport during exams and this is a message we wholeheartedly endorse for all our girls and boys, and is one which all embrace. With 12 tennis teams amongst the girls, 5 female crews within the boat club and tens of female athletes competing against other schools during the summer term our programme of competitive sport for female pupils is comprehensive and is reinforced during the winter and spring with more than a dozen teams for both hockey and netball plus two lacrosse teams frequently playing matches alongside those many others who engage in more individual sports and physical programmes.

Young, aspirational female pupils see themselves as the equal of anybody and when accolades and achievements are highlighted they are rightly quick to point out any discrepancies or perceived inequity in the attention given. The weekly sports update we produce at Canford is firmly stocked with reports of outstanding performances and application across the genders and this is reflected at end of term assemblies, sports dinners and presentation evenings. Rewards and recognition undoubtedly help boost self-esteem and not just for the highest achievers.  In an area when stress and deteriorating mental health is more prevalent amongst our teenagers than ever before sport and exercise should be used as a release from this issue not as a fuel for it. Our duty as educators and coaches is to create positive environments in which all pupils, regardless of gender, can thrive. This is and will remain a central aspect of our ethos at Canford.

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