We are fast approaching our annual Sports Awards events (is it that time of year already!!?) and so I have found myself reflecting more than once this week on the value that we place on sports at KISU.

There was a telling moment in the U20 Girls’ Basketball final last term when Kutenda spectacularly blocked an opponent’s jump shot. Both Kutenda and her opponent fell awkwardly to the floor; Kutenda reached the loose ball first, hurled it half the length of the court to Christy (who scored easily) and then turned around to her opponent and offered her a hand getting up. There was so much to admire in the moment- the athleticism, the skill, the sheer effort and desire and, of course, the sportsmanship. I believe strongly in the power of sport to develop young people’s characters- to foster the values and engender the personal qualities that will stand them in good stead in adulthood.

For example, sport teaches young people:

  • That the team can be greater than the sum of its parts. If a team really works hard together, if the team members really buy into an ethos and a well-conceived strategic approach then it can overcome others that may have more natural talent
  • The power of effective communication. I commend anyone who enjoys sports to go and watch an elite team sports fixture that is relatively poorly attended. Situate yourself relatively close to the playing area and just listen. You will be amazed at the amount of information that good players in good teams are sharing with each other- some of it is strategic, some of it is practical and some of it is providing emotional support- and the quality of it is often a telling difference between the good team and moderate one
  • That thoughtful diligent preparation pays dividends and that practice, both as an individual and as a team, really does lead to improvement
  • That there is no substitute for sheer effort. Effort alone does not guarantee success but if every individual puts in her maximum effort, both mentally and physically, then the team will play to its full potential and, regardless of the final result, that brings its own rewards
  • That there is great joy, even a sense of exhilaration, to be had from pushing one’s body and stretching one’s physical attributes, skills and talents to their limits. In these moments we feel truly alive and, (trust me!) as we get older, we realise how precious they are
  • That to perform at one’s very best one must be self-confident and willing to take risks and encounter and overcome failure
  • The importance of mental strength and the power of positive visualization and mindfulness in executing at the highest level and under the greatest pressure
  • That life is unfair- that there is such a thing as bad luck but that it cannot withstand the power of persistence
  • Balance and humility. Defeats at some point are an inevitability; they are an intrinsic part of the paradigm. Success should be savoured because it cannot be guaranteed. However, celebrating a victory should be tempered with respect for the opponent in the certainty that their present fate will, at some point in the future, surely be ours

We are not all cut out for sport; I recognise that. But we do all have to learn to work in teams and to overcome the challenges that life throws at us. These same values and qualities can be developed in orchestras and drama performances, in research teams and working grooups- really any context in which people come together to try to achieve something collaboratively. But sport has a way of crystallising the experience. Nowhere else is the line between victory and defeat so sharply drawn.

If we think back as adults on our teachers at school, we can all remember the funny ones, the wits and the extroverts, and, of course, the clever ones, the boffins and intellects, but if you ask us who the best one was, we will usually think of the one who challenged us the most. And that is why sport is such a great teacher.