The following blog is an adapted version of my opening remarks at Newcastle School for Boys’ eighth annual sports presentation evening sponsored by Oddballs and held at the Newcastle Marriott Hotel Gosforth Park on Wednesday 12th October 2016. The evening celebrated our boys’ individual and collective achievements and participation in the preceding year of school sport and PE. We were honoured to welcome our special guest for the evening: Newcastle Falcons and Scotland international rugby player, Ally Hogg.
School sport means everything. Not as an overwhelming priority detrimental to academic progress but in a wider, more inclusive sense. It complements the academic curriculum and provides a wide range of benefits and opportunities: from preparation for a professional playing career to the health and social benefits of recreational sport and exercise.
In considering what school sport means to our boys, I’ve tried to project myself into their minds in two ways. Firstly, by testing my own long term memory to recall my own experience of school sport and secondly and more relevantly by asking some of the boys themselves.
Here’s what some of them said when asked what school sport means to them:
•It makes me feel proud to be at NSB.
•It is a great experience and I always look forward to playing school sport.
•School sport means building character.
•School sport to me is dedication, determination and teamwork.
•Sport is my passion.
•School sport brings lots of different opportunities.
•School sport is a big part of my life. I like meeting people from different schools.
•I like school sport because it brings people closer together.
Thinking back to my own schooldays at an all boys’ grammar school and with the benefit now of a good number of years of hindsight, sport brings to mind three things: connection, commitment (to an extensive programme of fixtures and competitions) and a mostly helpful induction to becoming an adult male.
The connection to teammates and memories of a shared competitive experience from over thirty years ago remain strong. In my memory, sport is now largely inseparable from my academic experience where classmates were also teammates. The introduction to old boys’ sport from around age fourteen or fifteen became – for my peers and me – an extension to school sport and to our wider education – an insight into the world of male adulthood that wasn’t entirely by design and, by today’s standards, somewhat devoid of regulation and safeguards but no less valuable for their absence.
Should school sport be elite or inclusive? The answer is it can be both. In my view, NSB reconciles this better than any other school I’ve been involved with.
Our boys are fortunate – perhaps more so than they realise – to benefit greatly from access to strong links with professional sport through our connections with professional clubs like Newcastle Falcons and Newcastle United; through our relationships with our link sports professionals: Steve Harper, Marcus North and Dave Walder as well as access to the expertise and experience of current players like Ally Hogg and coaches like Mel Betts and John Fletcher.
Our relationships with local clubs: South Northumberland Cricket Club, Blaydon and Northern rugby clubs and Gosforth Lawn Tennis Club provide access to some outstanding facilities, coaching and further opportunities for our boys both through and beyond school.
One of the aims of school sport and PE has to be to promote healthy and active lifestyles hopefully to be sustained throughout all of our boys’ adult lives. Crucial to this is a positive experience and enjoyment of PE and sport at school. Having read a recent school newsletter match report describing an outstanding individual try for the School in a B team fixture, I bumped into the parent of the try-scorer and recalled the earlier, slightly hesitant conversation we had held during the admissions process just over a year previously before their son joined the School, when I was told: “Yes, but I can’t see him taking to rugby.” I remember thinking quietly at the time: “Perhaps not. But your son hasn’t yet been coached by Mr Hogarth.”
If I can promote the School’s sporting success both in terms of performance and participation, it is entirely down to the talents and unstinting dedication of our PE and Games staff and our coaches led by Mr Hogarth at the Senior School and by Mr Clark at the Junior School.
A great deal is made of the pressures faced by young people growing up in this early part of the 21st century – their well-being, their physical and mental health. Sport can provide a healthy outlet particularly, I would suggest, for boys and young men whose instinctive response to stress and pressure can often be a physical one.
Sport can provide an escape. Although each of us has a different relationship with sport, it brings people together. Sport has its own media, its own literature, its own currency. It teaches us about life. It creates narratives and meaning that enrich and inform our lives beyond just physical activity. If you doubt that, cast your mind back a month or so to the inspiring and moving back stories of those Paralympic athletes.
At NSB, sport promotes learning, achievement and the development of boys and young men of excellent character.
David Tickner tweets as @NSB_Headmaster