Special report

| September 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

Sport programmes in ISASA schools

It’s natural for our hearts to swell with pride when South African sportsmen and women win medals at international sporting events like the 2012 London summer Olympics.

Olympic success however, begins with sport at school, and many of our South African schools don’t have access to the most basic facilities, resources and training. Independent Education recently asked a variety of coaches and sport directors from ISASA schools to give us the benefit of their combined expertise and experience. Two issues were on the table: first, the importance of school sport, and second, methods resource-strained schools can use to make sport accessible to students.

Sport improves health

Jonathan Brayshaw from Vaal Christian School kicked off with a simple premise. “Sport makes it possible for children to enjoy the fresh air and being physically active.” Ginny Shepstone, from Rand Private Schools (RPS), is in total agreement. “Let’s coax them away from technology and other potentially harmful influences”. According to Shepstone, the benefits of sport are cumulative. As reflexes sharpen, energy levels soar, and stress levels fall away. Regular exercise also opens participants to healthier nutrition options. Adds Partson Ngwarai from Calvin College in Burgersfort in the Free State: “In South Africa, all schools have the statutory obligation to introduce and practise sports in the partial fulfilment of curriculum requirements. Sport not only reduces the risk of many physical problems like cardiovascular disease and obesity, but can inculcate values like patience, perseverance and discipline.”

A variety of skills Says Jessica Ross from Laerskool Nanaga Primary School, in the Eastern Cape, “Physical activity is vital for developing fine and gross motor skills and spacial orientation.” Jateen Nana from Shree Bharat Sharda Mandir School (SBSM) in Lenasia, Gauteng, explores another dimension: “Sport helps students achieve mind-body-soul unity. It capacitates the child with the ability to seek victory and to manage defeat with grace.”

Fair play is about more than winning and losing, remarks Shepstone. “Wearing a team uniform gives many children a tremendous sense of belonging they may not find anywhere else. And playing the game may encourage young players to emulate a positive role model they’ve seen on a national or international team. Such encouragement may convince children to pursue sport into adulthood, when they can set a good example for their own children.”

Put sport in primary schools Like most sport coaches, Shepstone is quick to call for a balance between academics and physical education at school. “Sport should start from the age of three and carry on through to matric and beyond.” Coco van Aardt from Summerhill Preparatory School in Hazyview would like to see all primary schools focus on skills – sport and social – development.

“At the primary level, we are responsible for laying the foundations of good sportsmanship and providing a basic framework of skills that children can develop later in their lives.” In order to put such a framework in place, van Aardt recommends that schools institute a sport programme policy. “Contact the Sports Science Institute of South Africa at the University of Cape Town to access Professor Tim Noakes’ research on instituting sport programmes at schools. It should be compulsory reading!”

Do the research and ask for help

Ngwarai also has excellent suggestions for schools with meagre resources but the desire to put a sport programme in place. “Hire coaches on a part-time basis, and where necessary, ask them for a special rate. Find out if there are any experts on the parent body who might not even charge any fees for their services.

Ngwarai is firm that schools must be proactive in creating sporting opportunities. “Find out where you can access facilities, and then ask to be part of a responsible memorandum of understanding. Try municipalities, neighbouring schools or tertiary institutions. You may just also find expert coaches willing to give their time and expertise to emerging talent.”

“Visit the Department of Sport and Recreation website for ideas and support (http://www.srsa.gov.za/). Minister Fikile Mbalula has spearheaded several worthy school-based sport initiatives. You could also ask for sponsorship from the business and non-governmental organisations in your area. Many enterprises are willing to donate money or materials if you present them with proper policies, plans and needs.”

Disappointment doesn’t keep small school down

Good as these ideas are, says Shepstone with regret, not everyone succeeds with them. “We have tried on numerous occasions to get large corporate like banks and companies to sponsor RPS, to no avail. They don’t anticipate getting enough exposure because we’re a small school. In the meantime, it’s schools like ours that may have enrolled a future Olympian in dire need of development.”

Disappointment will not stop Shepstone, however. “Our school fees are very low and we do not have either the space or the money to build our own sporting facilities. “So, Brian Harris, our executive headmaster, secured the Hofland Park Recreational Centre grounds for our school to use. He paid for the security guards and upkeep of the premises to ensure that vandalism did not take place and that the netball and basketball courts, the small soccer field and the surrounding grounds were kept in pristine condition.”

This partnership with the municipality has since fallen away, with the disheartening result that the facilities have become significantly degraded. RPS is still able to make use of the swimming pool, however for the inter-house gala and, elsewhere in the city, Johannesburg Athletics Stadium ( JAS) and its staff has also come in handy for inter-house athletics, and the ‘C’ league inter-high athletics meet for small schools. “Without JAS’s assistance, the majority of our children would not know what it is like to run on a proper tartan track. This simple experience encouraged some of our top learners to join athletics clubs in their home communities.”

A small school faces other challenges, reports Shepstone, like financing the transportation of learners to other schools for athletics, netball and soccer league matches or meets. “Instead, we try to get the larger private schools in our league to come to Hofland. They’re often not keen to compromise, so we have to forfeit a match, which makes our students sad.” Time is also in short supply. Sport is fitted into the academic timetable because many learners must rely on taxis to get home.

Innovative sport solution for rural school

Space and distance are also challenges for rural schools. Reports Brayshaw: “Vaal Christian School has always recognised the importance of sport but rural facilities stymie the opportunity to compete on the best playing fields. Our after-school sports programme would not exist were it not for the co-operation of our transport associations and parents. With our scholars travelling vast distances in order to get to school, it takes an inordinate amount of planning with said stakeholders to bring it all together.

“Our school has a close relationship with the village wherein it is situated and on a Tuesday, due to the popularity of soccer, we have the challenging task of coordinating approximately 400 scholars (high school only) on two regulation-sized soccer pitches. We manage to divide the playing surface of each field into eight and with cones and small soccer posts produce five-aside games for the majority of our learners!”

Community ethos keeps sport alive

Across the country at Laerskool Nanaga Primary, a very small school less than a decade old, says Ross: “Our community leads our ethos out of the academic environment onto the sports field. Our parents time keep, dig long jump pits, lay chalk lines, maintain the field and transport equipment to different venues.

“We encourage family-orientated events such as fun runs and swimming and we seize all opportunities, like Monkeynastics, mini hockey matches – only seven players are needed – against schools such as Woodridge Preparatory School, the Redhouse River Mile and Spar fun runs. “Our fathers coach Tag rugby and help organise crosscountry running events. A small school sports programme need not be fixed or rigid. Researching what is on offer in the surrounding areas creates all sorts of opportunities for children to compete.”

A break time idea and a home-made gym park At SBSM, Nana and colleagues have also found innovative ways to restore sport to its rightful place in the curriculum. “Learners are expected to participate in a weekly physical education period. Additionally, Break Time Sports (BTS) is my SBSM is by no means the only school to rely on availability and enthusiasm over expertise. Says van Aardt, “In a small school like ours, the teachers coach, administrate, transport, umpire, referee, attend meetings, score and cater.”

What Summerhill can do, however, it will, stresses van Aardt. “We have built a gym-trim park. Anybody can supervise and the cost is minimal. Poles, ropes, cargo nets, logs, old tyres and a bit of imagination are pressed into service and because it is so accessible, we can spend 10-15 minutes a day just working out on the equipment. Being out in the country means we have access to trails on neighbouring farms, so jogging, cycling and cross-country training are easy to organise.”

As our discussion concludes, van Aardt contemplates our national hunger for international medals. “We must continue to debate the ethics of school sport. Olympians are born. They will always rise to the top. Let’s not force the other 1 000 000 round pegs into square holes.”

Work with what you’ve got

Ross agrees that school sport should first and foremost be about fun and the simple act of participation. “When I became head of sport at Laerskool Nanaga Primary, it seemed an overwhelming challenge given our circumstances and the expectation that children need to be developed to be able to compete within their age group later on in secondary school. Then I learned an important lesson – focus on what you have! For children to develop the skills needed to play sports, they only need enough space, sufficient equipment to share and passionate coaches to guide and encourage them.”

Category: Spring 2012

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