Sport for body, mind & spirit

The tradition of sport in independent girls’ schools remains a big part of our culture. Sport develops mental well-being and physical stamina, as well as skills such as teamwork and time management. Sporting success also gives girls a tremendous confidence that readily transfers to other areas of school life – in the classroom as well as outside it.

Girls’ schools are generally good at developing leadership through sport; in the independent sector we are also good at offering sports such as riding, athletics and skiing for those who want to pursue individual rather than team disciplines. We are strong, too, on keeping girls interested in sport and exercise all the way through school life. First class facilities, specialised teachers and coaches mean that students have access to the best sports and fitness programmes throughout their time at school.

Why is this important? Top jobs require top fitness – look at the schedule of any FTSE 100 chief exec, and they have personal fitness on their agenda. For our sixth form students, as they go on to university and independent life, it is important that they understand the correlation between physical and mental well-being. I believe that as a sector we do well in getting girls to appreciate the holistic value of sport and fitness, and students see it as an intrinsic part of their overall well-being, as important as good food and sleep.

By starting girls young on a routine which includes plenty of varied exercise, we establish a healthy pattern in childhood and the teenage years. It is also important to encourage our girls to have a healthy relationship with their body – to appreciate its’ strength, stamina and all that it can do; and not to fixate on the things they don’t like.

Involvement in sport shows young people that application, determination and discipline reap rewards. It conditions them to the benefits of long-term commitment rather than the expectation of instant gratification. And most sports require a degree of tactical and strategic ability which act as a useful mental workout.

Anecdotal evidence from the many employers who have come to talk at my own school supports the thesis that playing team sport at a high level is always impressive. It shows that individuals can work collaboratively – highly important for the vast majority of jobs; and have a dedication and commitment for which employers are looking. Some of our sportswomen obtain sports scholarships to universities in this country and the US. As well as the financial benefit, these are prestigious awards which make their CVs stand out from the crowd.

We have many sportswomen who compete at national and international level in their discipline. They inevitably learn to balance their academic workload with their sporting commitments, which is not always easy, particularly in GCSE and A Level years. The fact that they do so and achieve great results in both fields shows that, with the right kind of attitude, girls don’t have to choose between an academic or sporting route: they can have both.

Characteristics of British independent education are grit, determination and tenacity, and these are also hallmarks of the competitive spirit. Competition is part of life, and it’s healthy to get children attuned to it at a young age. Girls at Malvern St James are used to competing with their friends in sport. Afterwards – win or lose – they shake hands and move on. Students learn to win and lose graciously and this is a skill that lasts a lifetime.

I’m sure most GSA Heads are great believers that sometimes failing or losing is a necessary part of life. To know success, we need to understand failure and how to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and try again. If we can teach our girls this, we will have set them up well for the challenges of life beyond school.

Olivera Raraty, Headmistress , Malvern St James Girls’ School

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