Darren Padgett: Winning and losing teaches a vital life lesson

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WHEN England’s World Cup dreams faded, most pundits were quick to criticise the team for its lacklustre performance. The players had a poor defence, said fans, weren’t sharp in front of goal and generally didn’t have the edge.

Winning is about passion, determination and hunger as well as raw talent, yet these are qualities which we’re actively knocking out of our young people because we don’t believe in competitive sport at school.

For too long competitive sport has been abandoned in favour of “participation” games. School sports day is a prime example where traditional races have been scrapped in favour of group games throwing beanbags in hoops.

What happened to taking pride in our best young athletes?

We should reward and celebrate their talent and dedication when they can run the fastest or throw a ball the furthest. Some of these children won’t be academic and sport will be their own passion so they need a chance to shine.

If a child excels in core subjects, they are commended with A* grades. Yet, at some school sports days, every child gets a medal simply for turning up.

We need to instill that passion and determination to win in our further athletes – and you can’t do that when everyone’s a winner. Offer a trophy and a child will strive to excel and enjoy the sweet taste of success.

Some critics claim competitive sport can damage a child’s self-esteem if they lose but kids need to learn that we can’t all be winners. Life is about success and failure and some of the best achievements come after the hardest knockbacks.

In fact, I would say competitive sport is good for a child’s self-esteem as it’s purely based on their talent, not on the interpretation of Sats results or Government targets.

The Prime Minister David Cameron hit the nail on the head a couple of years ago when he said schools need to stop this “all must have prizes” culture.

And his views have been echoed by Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools for Ofsted, who says state schools are failing children by not providing enough competitive sport.

He highlighted the links between academic success and levels of participation in sport.

It’s something Team Activ strongly believes. We provide sports competitions, teacher training and after-school sports clubs with all of Barnsley’s secondary schools and two thirds of its primary schools. I know how sport is pushed to the very edge of the school week, to focus more time on increasing standards in maths or English.

Yet competitive sport helps build self-esteem and confidence, which in turn raises exam results, which has now been recognised by Ofsted.

With 32 years’ experience in education, including as a former head of PE, I have seen the huge benefits. Schools involved in our programmes report more motivated pupils, higher aspirations and better behaviour within class. 

It’s children at state schools who really miss out. A survey by Ofsted found competitive sport is only compulsory in a handful of England’s state schools and just a fifth of young people regularly play sport outside lessons.

Sir Michael is also concerned that more than 40 per cent of the Team GB Olympic medallists were privately educated and says state pupils deserve the same chances.

National School Sport Week is encouraging pupils of all ages to take part in a wide range of competitive sporting activities. 

This should be a wake-up call for us all as our children’s health is a ticking time bomb. One in three primary school pupils are overweight or obese.

We won’t allow children to race each other, yet we weigh them in reception and Year Six and then lecture parents.

One sports day I heard about was in a cramped playground where the most energetic game was tapping a golf ball around cones – yet we spend millions of pounds on tackling obesity.

There is no equivalent to the School Food Plan to ensure that children get enough physical activity to maintain their health and are encouraged to form good habits that which will last them the rest of their life. 

We need to use PE and sport within schools to drive fitness for life. Schools need advice and support on how best to spend funding to achieve maximum benefit.

They also need clear targets based on quality, not purely “hours of PE” and we should train teachers to be more confident and competent at teaching PE.

Allowing children to compete encourages their passion, determination and courage while equips them to handle adversity and failure, teaches them to play by the rules and experience how training and practice pays off – all vital life skills.

The whole nation was desperate for England to win its football match – don’t let “winning” become a dirty word in schools.

Darren Padgett is founder and director of Team Activ, a multi award winning not for profit organisation which works in partnership with schools and teachers to deliver PE and sport for thousands of school children every year.