Sport and Wellbeing

20 June 2022

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The smell of cut grass, the sound of tennis balls on racquets and the sight of girls reading in the serenity of the extensive grounds herald the arrival of summer at school. But behind this calm exterior, an innovative and pioneering ethos in physical education and wellbeing underpins the educational excellence on offer here at North London Collegiate School.

The Physical Education curriculum at NLCS offers a huge range of different sports; alongside the traditional staples of athletics, cross-country, lacrosse, netball, swimming, and tennis sit badminton, basketball, bouldering, cricket, water polo, dance, gymnastics, yoga, HIIT, touch rugby, football, ultimate frisbee… the list goes on. Students in the Middle School (Years 7, 8 and 9) are introduced to a variety of sports in a programme that is designed to allow for risk-taking, as well as develop focus, teamwork and trust in themselves and those around them. The addition of self-defence and personal survival, and the opportunity to gain national qualifications in lifesaving, further enhance the self-care and personal responsibility aspect of the programme, providing a vital component of transferable life skills.

In the Upper School (Years 10 and 11) and Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13) the same breadth of activities is available, with the students able to select from a ‘carousel’ of different sports and activities. This enables them to try multi-disciplines with the aim of creating habitual involvement in sport and physical activity thus increasing engagement and participation. Year 9s are inducted into the Fitness Suite during their curriculum time and Years 9, 10 and 11 can use this facility to increase the ownership of their own physical wellbeing, whilst the Sixth Form work with staff to create their own bespoke programme of supervised access throughout the day. Staff are readily available to provide advice and support on training programmes and techniques.

The overwhelming benefit of working in an academically ambitious school, where students are keen to achieve the highest grades and motivated to study hard, is that this motivation and drive extends to all aspects of the students’ pursuits. NLCS is in the enviable position of being able to channel this focus and motivation into an inherently community-based programme where older students and younger students can identify a sport and activity that they enjoy and work on their leadership skills, creativity, ownership and sense of belonging. These are vital elements that foster a well-rounded, engaged and enthused student and staff body. NLCS fosters relationships with progressive and innovative organisations, including Future Action, led by Neil Moggan, to develop programmes that put mental health and wellbeing at the heart of their educational programme, whilst Podium Analytics research is integral in putting the safety of young people in sport as an utmost priority. Similarly, work with Richard Shuttleworth, an expert in the field of high performance and development, has enabled the PE department to embed a programme of ‘hands-off coaching’ that takes the view that young people thrive on the competition of sports, and so teaching and coaching should concentrate on facilitating decision-making, alongside skill acquisition and creating safe uncertainty to foster active learning and positive risk taking. The crucial point to convey to students is the significant increase in productivity from consistent bursts of physical activity, and these programmes help support this message and embed positive habits for a lifetime of exercising.

Director of Sport, Gill Aldcroft says “The ethos at NLCS is all about embedding functional movement skills and decision-making in our students, which benefits their physical wellbeing and academic studies. We do focus on aspects of skill acquisition and technical and tactical input, but we also empower and advance their decision-making opportunities. All our students are bright, motivated and engaged, with an innate ability to understand the theory behind what they are doing, they understand the biomechanics, but they might not have mastered the skill yet. That doesn’t stop them making the right decision; just because they may not excel at throwing, it doesn’t mean they can’t be in the right space, and so we balance skill and technique with decision-making games that stretch and challenge our students so that successful decision-making is honed under competitive situations. The students experience success and failure and actively learn from both experiences, developing skills that can translate into their studies and ultimately the workplace.”

Encouraging sport for all aims to counter the trend, identified by a recent Sport England research project, of girls becoming less engaged in sport as they go through their teens. At a single-sex school, girls can be free to compete, be themselves, and feel comfortable with any challenge they face. At NLCS, whilst the students compete inwardly, to be the best version of themselves, it is a non-judgmental environment and students are encouraged to try new activities and find those at which they can excel.

With the sheer reward of developing transferable skills and the obvious benefits of cross-curricular partnerships, the PE department is developing a bespoke training and monitoring app. This will work in a similar way to the Fitbit, encouraging students to log their activities, whether it be a run, a training session, a match, a mindful moment, or even a walk with a friend to discuss a book. Students will have ownership of their own progression but will also have access to positive, targeted feedback and encouragement from staff, earn house points for activities and take part in the competitive aspects alongside the mindful elements. The app will be a whole-school initiative with the programme design and coding being undertaken by students assisted by our staff body. This will complement our well-established elite provision with the Elite Athlete Mentoring Programme (EAMP) that itself will be enhanced by our Junior School Every Athlete Matters Programme (JnrEAMP) focusing on aspects of nutrition, sports psychology, injury prevention and rehabilitation as well as guidance on balancing their sport, academic and other extra-curricular pursuits.

NLCS is renowned for fostering scholarly, disciplined students with a thirst for learning and intellectual discourse, seamlessly combined with an innate appreciation for those around them and willingness to view setbacks as learning experiences, responding with grace and humility. With all of this in mind it is no wonder that the Physical Education programme is in a unique position to underpin the three pillars of an NLCS education (academic excellence, extra-curricular enrichment and pastoral care) by helping to develop motivated, optimistic, risk-taking pioneers with a desire to succeed. Hannah, captain of Sport said “I find that sport plays such a vital role in improving one’s mental health and wellbeing, whether that be helping to clear your head and increase productivity regarding schoolwork, or feeling constantly encouraged and supported by members of your team; it is so important to foster a positive attitude towards sport for life.”

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