Sport psychology in schools

School sport can help pupils deal with pressure and stress


We’re familiar with the role of the sport psychologist in high profile professional sports such as football and tennis, but can psychology bring tangible benefits to school sports?

Iain Simpson, director of sport at Oakham, a co-ed day and boarding school in Rutland, is convinced it can.

“Sport psychology is not an add-on or an extra and it’s not just for the elite players,” he says. “In fact the benefits reach way beyond the pitch.”

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For instance, sport psychology provides strategies for coping under pressure and dealing with stress. “We use scenarios,” says Mr Simpson.

“Pupils play fiveminute matches. We ask them to pretend it’s the last five minutes and their team is losing. What would they do? The experience helps them to understand how important it is to stay in the moment; the five-minute deadline means there’s no time to think about what might go wrong.”

Such cognitive exercises are now used in other areas of school life. Teaching staff take sport strategies and make them applicable to their own subject.

Oakham’s music department has recognised that qualities such as commitment, developing positive behaviour and the effectiveness of quality practice are equally relevant to learning an instrument.

A number of Oakham’s pupils are on national sports pathways linked to professional clubs.

School sports coaches also work closely with these clubs to bring the latest innovations in training and development back to the school.

“We ask ourselves, what do these behaviours look like at different levels – from an elite player to a 12-year-old footballer?” says Mr Simpson.

“Sport psychology is not about outcome. It’s about skills and behaviour.”

The weird and wonderful world of school sport

The pupils of Lewes Old Grammar School may, or may not, be able to take up gliding, but there are plenty of other ancient and modern sporting traditions going strong at independent schools, from the Eton Wall Game to Winkies (Winchester College’s own version of football).

At Rossall School on the Lancashire coast, pupils play RossHockey, a kind of hockey/ rugby mash-up on the beach next to the school, while all pupils at Dauntsey’s in Wiltshire get the chance to crew a century-old tall ship called the Jolie Brise (winner of the first Fastnet Race in 1925).

Truro School makes the most of its Cornish location and offers surfing, coasteering, sailing and snorkelling on the timetable.

Windermere School in Cumbria has its own water sports centre, two boathouses and a private beach and is the only school in the country to hold RYA British Youth Sailing Recognised Club status.

At Westminster Under School, a prep school in central London, the urban landscape lends itself to parkour, where the aim is to get from one point to another as fast and efficiently as possible in a complicated environment.

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