Fit for learning

PUBLISHED: 11:09 20 September 2016

In the cricket nets at Beeston Hall School

In the cricket nets at Beeston Hall School

(C) Chris Taylor Photo

England coaches teaching cricket, ex-Norwich City football players leading football and a team to compete with, whatever your level – sport is taken pretty seriously at independent schools in the area

Hockey at Gresham's SchoolHockey at Gresham's School

Sporting scholarships for talented youngsters are a given at virtually every independent school, but there’s a huge emphasis on enthusing and bringing out the best in the not-so-natural sportsmen and women too.

Sport promotes a healthy and active lifestyle, and a breadth of activities helps all pupils gain the physical competence, confidence, motivation, knowledge and understanding to maintain a lifetime of physical activity, says director of sport at Norwich School, Joe Cowan.

Sport can help to teach about winning and losing gracefullySport can help to teach about winning and losing gracefully

“The body is not the only part that sport and exercise is good for. There has been lots of recent research showing the benefits of exercise on the brain,” he says, adding that exercise is a way to improve success in other areas, from academia to energy levels, quality of sleep and a stress reduction.

The link between school sport and lifetime healthy living is emphasised at many schools, including Gresham’s, where pupils are encouraged to take part in traditional team sports such as hockey, rugby, netball, cricket and shooting, says Steve Adams, sports development director. It has opportunities also for pursuits such as badminton, football, fencing, sailing, squash, aerobics, basketball, golf, horse-riding, mountain-biking, kick-boxing, street-dance, table-tennis and trampolining.

Taking part in sports day is a serious business - even at the age of fiveTaking part in sports day is a serious business - even at the age of five

“Participation is key, and the school firmly believes that its pupils benefit both mentally and physically from being active. Taking part in physical activity leads to higher self-esteem and contributes to better mental alertness in the classroom, and gives pupils the chance to learn respect, rules and the importance of teamwork from healthy competition,” says Steve.

“Many of our pupils have competed at national and international levels at rugby, girls’ football, cricket and shooting and are an inspiration to their peers and act as role models for younger pupils. Most importantly, sport is where our pupils come together and make lasting friendships that remain strong both on and off the field.”

Beeston Hall is among those operating a Sport For All programme, where every child in the school plays in matches and represents a team, with activities including athletics, badminton, ballet, basketball, cricket, fencing, football, golf, gymnastics, hockey, horse riding, kayaking, netball, rounders, rugby, sailing, shooting, squash, swimming and tennis.

“It is not unusual for 12 or 13 teams to be representing the school at all age groups and standards,” says Bob Hammond, Beeston’s director of sport.

“For a small school, we have an unusually large pool of sporting talent and consistently punch above our weight,” he adds, listing achievements including county and regional hockey champions, England hockey players, a world champion sailor and England Under-19 netball player.

“Over the past 12 years we have achieved 35 sports’ scholarships to 11 different schools, including Gresham’s, Rugby, Malvern, Uppingham, Harrow, Oakham, Langley, The Leys, Oundle, Tudor Hall and Stowe,” adds Bob.

Including every pupil is vital, continues Jon Turner, head of sport at Glebe House School at Hunstanton.

“Our children enjoy regular sports lessons from reception, and from the time they enter prep they are enjoying weekly matches. It’s always nice to achieve a good result, but we focus on the happiness of each child first and foremost. Glebe has a very inclusive nature and every child is given the opportunity to play in games, regardless of ability and we place great importance on good sportsmanship. Those who are more able are given bespoke training that ensures they are well positioned to go on to play in first teams when they arrive at senior school.”

Norwich School director of sport, Joe Cowan, echoes his words: “Norwich School believes that all pupils can be successful in sport and aims to support any pupil wanting to improve their performance.”

Joe says sport also provides opportunities for pupils to learn about and deal with failure - a big part of growing up.

Beeston Hall School’s new headmaster, Fred de Falbe adds: “Sport helps children learn about themselves as much as the game and these are lessons for life, for ever.”

A varied PE programme and extra curricular sporting activities work to instill a lifetime love of sport. At Downham Prep, for example, pupils swim, and learn football, rugby, rounders, hockey, netball, cricket and tennis, with extra activities including badminton, archery and cross-country.

There’s an emphasis in schools on inspiring pupils not only with varied sports - from polo and martial arts to yoga and trampolining - but with coaching from proven sportsmen and women. It means cricket coaching led by Paul Newman, the former Leicestershire and Derbyshire County cricketer at Town Close in Norwich and at Langley School, football with ex-Norwich City FC player Darren Eadie and hockey with England hockey coach Ben Wright.

Culford School, near Bury St Edmunds, where facilities include the Culford Sports and Tennis Centre, puts specialist sports coaches for all levels at the forefront of its sports programme. Alongside their academic work, youngsters can follow a bespoke performance programme in tennis, swimming, golf and cricket and high performance pathways lead to national level competition for several students.

Many schools share their sporting facilities and expertise with the community too, with pupils and delivering PE lessons, games sessions, staff development workshops and pupil festivals and tournaments with local schools.

Norwich High School for Girls is the Norwich City Council Sports School of the Year 2015, and has strong community club links, including engaging with Dragons Hockey Club and Norwich Kayak Club. Its Elite Talent Programme mentors and supports sports women competing at the highest level.

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