Sporting role models: responsibility for helping the next generation

Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, talking (mainly ranting) and philosophising about the role of PE & school sport outside of promoting healthy, active lifestyles.

It seem to now be commonly accepted by the masses that physical activity is “good for you”. The government’s media campaigns, however misinformed/misdirected they are, do seem to have been assimilated into the psyche of the general public. I swear there are more joggers (or is it “Yoggers? I’m not sure if it has a soft J”) on the seafront and more people using the gym after 5 at our school. This can only be a good thing and I’m happy about the contribution that understated and often unrecognised PE/school sport has made.

As we constantly remind the kids however, PE isn’t just about getting better at sport. For me, the values, morals and life skills encouraged by PE and sport are invaluable and aren’t always evident elsewhere in school or society.

Last week a kid came to Dodgeball club, a newly formed lunchtime recreational activity for our Yr7 & 8’s. About 2 minutes in, he took a shot to the left leg. He stopped, looked around, picked up the ball and carried on playing. Now you might question whether he knew the rules of the game (to be fair, I might have quickly gone over the rules & he might not have heard them), he might have thought that the ball had bounced, or he might have not have felt the contact. I caught his eye and gave him the international gesture for “you’re out lad”, at which point he exploded with rage and shouted “I’m not f***ing out! It never hit me!” Now I am getting on a bit. My eyes aren’t what they used to be, but I had no doubt as to what had happened. He was cheating and he knew he’d been caught. The lad stormed over to the side of the room, kicked over a bench, the proceeded to punch the wall and give me the “right, you’re going on my secret kill-list” stare. I’m old school. I threw him out. Should I have calmly tried to diffuse the situation? Yes, probably. I should have used some of the tactics I shared with our ITT students during a behaviour management session last week, but I didn’t.

I caught up with the lad the next day. He was very apologetic. I apologised for throwing him out without trying to resolve his obvious grievance. He’s a decent kid. Why then did he lose the plot so aggressively & unnecessarily? Cue lengthy discussion (rant) with wife.

I am a big fan of role models. I had some corkers. Steve Cooksey, Gary Cooper, Eric Sampson, Ian Evans, Dave Ridley and the late, great Steve Creek. Along with most of the nation, I accumulated more this Summer in Mo Farah, Katherine Grainger, David Weir & Ellie Simmonds. When I talk to kids about inspirational people, it’s usually someone from sport that springs to mind.

Lately though, we seem to be swamped with negativity in the form of false sporting idols. The biggie for me is Lance. I was a huge fan of his during his cycling career. I read his books. I love the charity work he does. Simply for not dying and coming back from the brink, I still respect him. But after USADA finally published the findings of their investigations, I simply couldn’t hold up Lance Armstrong as a role model any longer. “Win at all costs” isn’t a sentiment with which I feel affinity. I have been lucky most of my life to feel that I am good enough to be satisfied. Am I the best at sport? No, that’s why I’m teaching PE instead of playing for YCCC or the Rhinos. Am I an outstanding teacher? No, but I think I do my job well and the kids get good value. I could go on. I try and help kids realise that they need to be the best they can be, but nobody should insist they are “the best”. It’s unrealistic; as Highlander said “there can be only one”.

The John Terry/Luis Suarez/football racism fiascos. I cannot understand how, in 2012, we’re still dealing with issues around racism. It is senseless. What upset me most about these cases was the stance by the clubs and their supporters in backing the players accused. I’m all for “solidarity brother” but unfortunately the public show of support backfired hugely. Fans were abusing Anton Ferdinand & Patrice Evra via social media, death threats were reportedly received at the QPR training ground and the FA were impotently useless in their attempts to convince the watching world that their respect campaign was working. How would a school have dealt with claims such as this? Full investigation, parents brought in for a meeting, major consequences should the accused be found guilty. These things simply didn’t happen. Suarez was banned for 8 games, Terry for 4. Basically, the FA’s decision reflected that put together, two counts of public racist abuse is just about as bad as Paulo Di Canio pushing a referee over. My view is simple; an ugly problem from the dark days of football resurfaced, it should have been swiftly and surely destroyed with massive sanctions. The point being, not only are John Terry and Luis Suarez role models, so are the FA. They all acted badly and as a result our kids are exposed to the worst kind of negative publicity.

I used to be a massive football fan. Recently however, I’ve become more disenchanted by the day with the professional game. Kids all over the world dream of becoming a footballer. I read an excellent interview with Reading captain Jobi McAnuff in which he describes meeting with local 8 year olds. The first two questions he was asked were; “what car do you drive?” and “how much do you get paid?” What a ridiculous state of affairs when the two things kids associate with footballers are cars and cash.

I look at the amount of “simulation” that goes on in matches. Let’s call a spade a spade, it’s cheating. It’s accepted in the game. It isn’t punished. Every now and then someone gets a yellow card, but it’s accepted. If a kid dived in a school football match and faked injury, I’d drag his arse off & put someone on who wanted to play, acting’s for the drama lot.

I watched a game last week in which a linesman awarded a throw-in against a defender trying to keep the ball in play. He rushed towards the official and launched a tirade of abuse, it was clear that the outburst started with “F*** off!” What happened? Nothing. The official in question stared blankly ahead, like the driver who cuts you up then ashamedly pulls up alongside you a mile down the road at the roundabout. Again, what would I do if that happened in a school game? The kid would certainly not play any further part in that game & probably any others for letting the school down so badly. Again though, sanctions are applied rigidly in schools, why not in a situation where the stakes are higher & the publicity greater?

Ashley Cole. The man gets his own section. A mercurial talent, of that there is no doubt. As a purely athletic role model, he is great. However, Mr Cole unfortunately seems to court controversy as a hobby. His latest faux pas resulted in him calling his governing body a “bunch of tw**s”. Had I publicly said about my headteacher & governors, I’d have been sacked on the spot – probably never to work in education again. Lots of our kids saw the offending tweet, lots of them talked about the incident in school that week. All of them saw Ashley Cole’s inclusion in the England squad only days later. I accept that an official apology was made. I also doubt very much that Mr Cole had the gumption or remorse to make such an apology without the heavy encouragement of his management firm. Apology or not, there was simply no punishment. Good message to kids? As long as you say sorry, you’ll get away with it.

Sport is a massive part of my school. The badge on the kids’ chests mean a lot to me. Representing that badge is more than just being a good player or a good performer. It’s about being made of “the right stuff”. Out-of-date sentiment? Possibly, but if we’re not instilling the values of respect, fair play and honesty, then who is? As teachers, coaches and role models ourselves, we need to ensure that what we preach is the right message & kids understand it. We need to encourage kids to look towards the Brownlees, the Johnny Peacocks and the Jess Ennises rather than towards the more obvious, glamorous and the misleading. We do that and we’ve cracked it.

One thought on “Sporting role models: responsibility for helping the next generation”

  1. Horner. At times you do talk hot air and like to tell a story. However on the cases of all your blog posts so far, all your time and efforts have been extremely worthwhile. Your posts are genuine, honest and extremely intriguing. I cannot recall reading any posts recently on a variety of blogs from a variety of authoritive positions which are lore accurate. Long may they continue and reflect exactly the job we all do on a daily basis.

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