Kevin Doble, Principal of Broomwood – a group of London prep and pre-preps – on how sport teaches the important lessons in life and why our children need more of it

I was talking with parents the other day about preparing for 11+ entrance exams in London. Their children were being educated at state schools and they were incredibly anxious about the competitive system they had entered. The high standard required of candidates applying to many of our independent senior schools was taking a toll on the whole family.  

One mother explained that she had a network of tutors providing extra support so that her son could reach the academic level needed. It transpired that his entire week was taken up with studies beyond the school day and there was little time for anything else. My heart sank. I passionately believe that a proper education – not to mention a proper childhood – should involve physical activity, including access and exposure to a wide range of sports. It is easy to become so obsessed with planning for the future, that we forget our children are living their childhoods now: give them the present of the present!

At Broomwood, our boys and girls enjoy a co-ed setting until the age of eight when they move to our single-sex prep schools. We believe this gives them the chance to mature academically at their own rates, but at the same time, they do come together for selected sports and a whole range of learning and social activities beyond the classroom. When it comes to sport, we are ambitious for them in the broadest sense. Of course, we want them to win trophies and tournaments (and they do), but we also want to instil in each of them a love of physical exercise, regardless of gender or ability.

“It is easy to become so obsessed with the future, that we forget our children are living their childhoods now: give them the present of the present!”

We are in the process of increasing the number of sports sessions in school, but this is not the trend nationally. A recent report by the Education and Training Inspectorate found that 74% of primary schools are unable to provide the minimum government requirement of two hours a week. Playing football, sliding in the mud and twenty seconds later becoming a hero teaches our children valuable life lessons: teamwork, camaraderie, self-discipline and tenacity. Even those who do not see themselves as ‘naturals’ can improve immeasurably when they are well coached. The satisfaction on the faces of girls and boys who realise they can do something beyond what they thought possible is a joy to see.

Schools should be taking the lead here, providing exposure to a wide range of different sports and inclusion for all. Boys shouldn’t be discouraged from trying sports traditionally associated with girls, like netball or lacrosse, and although girls are beginning to achieve considerable international success, with sports like football through the Lionesses, there is still much to do at grass-roots level.

Much has been written about the effect the pandemic had on our children. Teachers across the country have noticed a deterioration in behaviour and a decline in classroom engagement and emotional health. I would argue that a large part of the problem is connected with the denial of sporting engagements. It is critically important for the wellbeing of our children that we bring back balance in their education. Sport, and proper physical exercise, is the way to do it.


Further reading: Let’s Dance – four schools on why this is a super sport