The history of sport is as long as the history of mankind; we have always been actively sporting beings.
Sport has shown itself to be a useful way for people to increase their mastery of nature and their environment. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Egyptians all played sport in various forms. Many of the modern sports we enjoy have their origins in the English public schools of the 18th and 19th century, where leading educators, many of them classicists such as Dr Thomas Arnold of Rugby School, emphasised the importance of sport in education.
Sport has traditionally had two distinct but complementary roles in schools, as well as in society in general. Mass participation in sport, which became widely known as “Sport for All” in the UK, has always co-existed with the pursuit of sporting excellence.
In spite of the fact that we live in a period of rapid change, the importance of sport in school has remained undimmed and in many respects has been brought into sharper relief by the lifestyles we lead in the early 21st century. Sport has always been seen as a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle. Schools have an important role to play in educating students about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle through personal health and social education programmes and a wide variety of extra-curricular activities, introducing them to the pleasures of sport and physical fitness and encouraging them to take part.
It is important that we get young people involved in sport, because good habits formed during childhood are very often habits that we maintain throughout our lives. There is of course room for computer games in life, but they too often become a recreational default, and they cannot fill the hugely significant role that childhood sport plays in assisting in vital physical development. More than this, many studies have shown that fit and active children are very often happier and more successful in their academic work.
Sport as recreation is important not only for fitness; children who are interested in sport are less likely to get involved in negative and dangerous lifestyle options in their teenage years, particularly if they have a shared commitment to a team. Their attitude is shaped by a peer group with a positive, mutual goal and interest, and the sense of discipline and responsibility that goes with it.
Sport in all its guises also plays an important role in teaching young people respect. To enjoy most games we need some form of opposition; without them the contest, whether a recreational game of tennis or a fiercely contested inter-house basketball tournament, is impossible. Therefore we must appreciate and be respectful of our opponents for the part they play. Similarly, students must learn to respect rules and authority: once again, sport is a safe and healthy endeavour where rules and the referee are a central element. Young people soon learn that without them the activity simply flounders, quickly descending into chaos.
Playing sport and being part of a team is a very good way of bringing people together and breaking down barriers. Many schools undertake sports tours or participate in sports tournaments, for example through the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools (ACAMIS), the Federation of British International Schools in Asia (FOBISIA) and the Chinese International Schools Sports Association (CISSA), which brings young sportsmen and women together from across Far East Asia and further widens their social network.
Another core element is being part of a team. This yet again illustrates that sport is a microcosm of life itself. Most employers rightly value the ability of prospective employees to perform well as part of a team. An important part of a child’s education must be to ensure that they understand the importance of successful relationships, where individual personal needs and desires are tempered and adapted to the needs of others. Furthermore, students should have a clear understanding and appreciation of the fact that they can very often achieve a great deal more through co-operation and teamwork than through their own individual efforts. Sport in school provides a myriad of opportunities for this to be experienced and reinforced.
It is no coincidence, as I review this piece, that many of the words we would all like to have attributed to ourselves and our children – respectful, determined, responsible, self-disciplined – feature prominently in this article. Sport has always been important in school, not just because it promotes a healthy and active lifestyle, hugely important in itself of course, but because it helps ensure that children get a rounded education. Very few other undertakings can teach us so much about the trials and tribulations of life in the real world, and equip us with so many invaluable life skills. Students will learn that life is not fair; that it is often competitive; and that they can expect pressure in one form or another. Sport therefore still has an important role in educating young people in the 21st century because, as Thomas Arnold shrewdly observed, sport is “ …a formidable vehicle for character building”.
- Kevin Foyle, Principal