There is nothing like taking part in a sport you love to develop positive habits for the rest of a young person’s life, says Pauline Stott
The past two years have seen women’s sport reach greater levels of coverage and achievement than ever before.
In the wake of the London 2012 Olympics, where the women’s events brought passion, drama, and a rather impressive haul of medals for Team GB, those of us immersed in the sporting scene felt that the time for women’s sport had well and truly arrived.
I’m always taken aback when I come across the assumption that sport at an all-girls school will be a rather gentle, refined affair – somehow lacking in the excitement, passion or fierce spirit of competition you’d expect in a mixed or boys’ environment.
My family and I moved to Kilgraston five and a half years ago from a mixed school, so I could take up the newly created role of Director of Sport – along with my two girls who joined the school as pupils. And yes, we found the sport in a girls’ school to be different, but perhaps not in the ways we might have expected. In a mixed school, boys’ physical strength and the greater likelihood that they’ve grown up immersed in sport means that they’re likely to rise more quickly to the upper ranks of school sporting achievement and to dominate many of the traditional school sports.
In a self-enforcing cycle, girls who believe they are unlikely to excel at sport are less likely to get involved in the first place – perpetuating the notion that girls “aren’t really sporty”.
By contrast, in a girls-only environment, the very best sportspeople are – and can only be – female, so this creates a culture where female role models in sport are very much the norm, rather than the exception. Our girls quickly lose their self-consciousness, and are more likely to take risks, push themselves, and really throw themselves into their sport. Sports Leader Awards, where girls use their PE lessons to develop skills in coaching, encourage sporting excellence to be passed down through the year groups of the school, and creates a culture where girls who excel at sports like hockey and football are utterly commonplace.
It’s true, of course, that some girls (and some boys), simply aren’t “sporty” in the traditional sense of team and ball sports. However I’m yet to meet anyone – of either gender – who can’t be supported to find some sort of exercise that they enjoy.
From the youngest pupils in the nursery to our soon-to-be university girls in the upper sixth, sport at Kilgraston is compulsory and taught exclusively by specialist sports staff. From the age of 14 upwards, girls choose which sports they participate in, which means they’re more likely to really throw themselves into activities, instead of slogging through a session in which they’re simply not interested.
There really is nothing like taking part in a sport you love to inspire young people to develop positive habits for the rest of their life. Those habits aren’t just about getting off the sofa and going for a run, but are also about ensuring girls are able to win (and lose) with grace and resilience, helping them to develop a spirit of adventure, an ability to push their boundaries, and a willingness to throw themselves into whatever opportunities come their way. These issues are so much bigger than school PE lessons, which is why it’s so vital that we encourage and inspire our girls to get involved in sport.
Something like 94 per cent of our girls participate in our annual cross-country run – some to compete and excel, others to dress up, paint their faces, and join in with the sense of community and excitement. Each year, as I watch close to 300 girls, aged from 3 to 18, turn out for the run in all weathers, often smiling through the rain and encouraging one another across the finish line, I really couldn’t be prouder.
And judging by the quality of school sports for girls right now, the future of women’s sport is in safe hands. Whether our girls are focusing on the discipline of ballet, the clashes of the hockey pitch or the exhilaration of tennis, they’re grasping the opportunity to truly excel in the sporting arena with both hands.
As our girls stand triumphant on a medals podium, collapse across a finish line, battle for a goal or complete the perfect clear round, the notion that “girls aren’t really into competitive sports” is well and truly quashed.
• Pauline Stott is a double hockey Olympian and director of sport at Kilgraston School, Bridge of Earn, Perthshire www.kilgraston.com