Giving school sports a reset in the world of COVID-19

Giving school sports a reset in the world of COVID-19

Jamie Johnston, Athletic Director, ACS International School Egham

In an article for The Telegraph, published on Thursday 8 October, I spoke about the importance of considering student wellbeing when we approach school sports in this most unusual of return to school periods.

In the piece, I highlighted that, while formal sports tournaments and competitions are currently on pause due to the pandemic, we now have a wonderful opportunity to hit the reset button on school sports – considering what it is we want to achieve through our extra-curricular sports offering.

Something that you can often find is that, within competitive sports programmes, students end up going from the pressure of academia to another stress: the sports team. And while there is much evidence regarding the benefits of sports for mental health, when pressure is mounting, sports can actually have a negative impact on a student’s wellbeing.

I think we can all agree that we are currently living in an unusually distressing time; all over the world people are feeling the impact of this global pandemic, that is causing stress and anxiety every single day. Therefore, school sports should absolutely not be adding to this. Sports need to be approached in a way that is fun and enjoyable; providing young people with valuable opportunities for personal growth, while supporting both physical and mental health.

At ACS Egham, since last year, and now with a bigger drive than ever, we’ve been developing a culture shift to more ‘transformational’ coaching, where ‘courage’ has become the key word. Participation is our main objective and we want students to be fearless and to try out whatever sports they wish. Failure doesn’t exist, no one is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s just sports. Once we’ve got everyone involved and having fun, we can then look to develop what they can do, building on their athletic ability but also championing key skills like teamwork, gratitude and empathy.

This, so far, is having a very positive impact across the school and participation levels have never been higher. Students know they can come along, have fun with their friends, and enjoy a much needed escape from the current uncertainty of everyday life. Indeed, sports are an incredible thing. For young people, they can offer a new way of connecting with friends inside and outside of school, and for adults they can be a way to get out and about and gain a sense of freedom, when it feels life is restricted in so many other ways.

As said by John Wooden, the late and great American basketball coach: “A coach’s primary function should be not to make better players, but to make better people”. Now, more than ever, I believe this rings true.

You can read my full article, including tips for finding the motivation to get back into sports, here