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Education News: Sport - there's no escaping it.

Education News: Sport - there's no escaping it.

Olympian Ideals

By John Gerritsen, Editor, NZ Education Gazette Tukutuku Korero

Sport. There's no escaping it.

First there was the Netball champs and that bitter, last gasp loss to Australia.

Then, we had the Rugby World Cup with its bleary-eyed, post-match mornings, and those staffroom sweepstakes inevitably won by someone who thought a flanker was part of a horse.

Next, came the America's Cup and the prospect of wind shifts and endless protest flags.

With so much physical activity going on, the NZ Education Gazette Tukutuku Korero decided it was time to take a good look at school sport.

After all, it had changed a lot in the past 20 years.

For a start, full-contact rugby is a no-no at many primary schools. "We're breeding a bunch of nancy boys!" confided one parent. And don't even think of mentioning bullrush.

Kiwi Sport, the Hillary Commission programme for primary schools, has brought huge change, scaling the equipment and the rules of twenty-nine sports to match the diminutive size of primary school children.

In our secondary schools, there are sports academies for everything from rugby to outdoor pursuits, and there's a greater variety of sports than ever before.

Some things have not changed.

Rugby and netball are easily the top secondary school sports, according to statistics gather by the Hillary Commission, with about 30,000 participants each. But the Commission found there are now eighty-eight different national secondary school sports events each year, teams ranging from bowls to karate. Participation is high with 135,862 of the 200,000 plus students at secondary school representing their schools in at least one sport last year.

Significantly, more girls are playing sport. In 1991, 65% of secondary school girls played sport. By 1996, that was up to 77%. Interestingly, the increase in girls' participation is mostly in traditionally male sports: soccer, cricket and rugby. Wellington High School principal Prue Kelly, one of only two women on the Secondary Schools Sports Council, says girls have become more adventurous.

She says one factor is KiwiSport, which makes sports like rugby and soccer more accessible to all primary school children, including girls. "We've got kids coming through high school now who are KiwiSport kids. They have developed their skills and if you've got the skills, you can enjoy the game."

Hillary Commission Sportfit manager Peter Sharp says another change is an increase in the number of secondary school sports co-ordinators who have release time, allowing them to attend to the administrative side of their teams.

In 1992, said Peter Sharp, about 10% of secondary schools provided release time for such positions. Now, 96% of secondary schools did so.

But the big change, he said, was in the way sport was seen, both by the students who played and by the teachers, trustees and principals who supported them.

Sport was now valued as part of the education system and not just something that children did after school for fun. There was recognition that sport encouraged students to adopt healthy attitudes to their lifestyles, to get along with their peers, or to stay on at school when, academically, they were struggling.

"While it is nice to produce athletes and winners and see your team do well, the biggest reason for schools to encourage participation in sport is to get benefits in other areas," said Peter Sharp. "Giving kids some sort of sense of belonging and sense of responsibility is very important. Sport is one of the most accessible ways of getting that and for many young people, it has taken a role that used to be provided by the church and the family."

The shift in attitude to sport had in part been brought about by sports organisations which had to do more to attract children in the face of other demands on their time, including television and after-school work.

He said the Health and Physical Education Curriculum introduced this year would help sport realise its full value to schools. "The curriculum gives a real chance to establish the legitimacy of sport as part of education."

Physical Education New Zealand president Dr Bruce Ross is not so sure that secondary schools are achieving the full benefit that physical education can bring to students.

Bruce Ross, who denies the anti-sport label his critics have foisted on him, places much of the blame on the increased commercialisation and hype that surrounds professional sport.

Now, he said, young people were presented with over-the-top lauding of successful sports people, the lure of professional sport as a career, and strong encouragement to be a spectator rather than a player.

Bruce Ross said sport role models might encourage young people to play a sport, but they also encouraged them to give up when they realised they would never serve a ball like Venus Williams or dodge tacklers like Christian Cullen.

The advent of professionalism had given young people the unrealistic impression that if they play sport they could forget about their academic school work, not realising that only an elite few would ever benefit from professional sport.

Bruce Ross disputed the Hillary Commission's assertion that more children were participating in sport. More students might be representing their schools, but not necessarily in sports that were played every week and had strong team-building and community natures. His own observation was that schools are fielding fewer, more elite teams in sports like rugby and netball.

Furthermore, some schools still appeared to be concentrating too much on winning. Bruce Ross said some Auckland secondary schools were working harder than ever to attract top young athletes so they could field the winning first XV or first X1.

Despite his observations, Bruce Ross insists he is not anti-sport, but is simply opposed to "the ugly commercialisation of sport."

"We have got to realise there is an underbelly to sport which is of concern," he said.

Bruce Ross said the benefits of physical activity such as team building and higher self-esteem were attainable, but they could not be approached directly.

"If we concentrate on organising our physical education so we have sensitive, qualified teachers who have got the time to intervene when necessary, and who know when not to intervene and who create an increased variety of activities and prod the youngsters to think about what they are doing, then we might get some of those indirect benefits," he said.

Bruce Ross said schools would do well to be more responsive to youth culture. Skateboarding and hacky sack were among the most popular physical activities for young people and should be encouraged. Schools should aim to celebrate physicality and let children develop their levels of physical competency in ways they enjoy and that met their needs.

Prue Kelly agreed with the notion of encouraging activities such as skateboarding and hacky sack.

Her school has a half-pipe and other equipment for skateboarders, and the student council recently organised a skateboarding competition for Wellington skateboarders.

"The skill and the challenge these youngsters put themselves through is amazing," she said. "It is a valid sport."

She admitted there was a management issue with students bringing skateboards to school, but the students abided by the rules and, more importantly, it gave them the opportunity to do something that for many was their only form of physical activity.

The points made by Bruce Ross and Prue Kelly about the physical activities currently favoured by young people place a question mark over the future face of sport in schools. Will the traditional team sports lose their dominance in favour of more individual pursuits like skateboarding?

Ian Culpan of Christchurch College of Education was one of the principal writers of the new Health and Physical Education Curriculum. He believes traditional school sport will survive because it is so strongly embedded in New Zealand culture.

But Ian Culpan said both society and the Health and Physical Education Curriculum were likely to bring changes.

Society, he said, was likely to influence the types of sport available at school, with sport caught up in a general trend toward instant gratification, challenge and excitement. That trend had made the current teen generation resistant to rules and regulations and they favoured activities such as two-on-two basketball and skateboarding which they could do with minimal fuss.

But according to Ian Culpan, while society pushed school sport into the next millennium, the Health and Physical Education Curriculum was likely to turn the clock back in the best possible sense. He predicted that the curriculum would strengthen something best described as the Olympic ideal of sport in schools.

"In New Zealand, sport has been very much about winning, losing, rivalry and the competitive environment," he said.

"I think that will continue with elite sport, but with the other sports I think the value-based side will re-emerge."

Ian Culpan said the curriculum strongly pushed values in sports and it required examination of the place of sport in society through its sports studies component.

"In our school curriculum there has been very little opportunity for children to understand the sporting culture in New Zealand.

"Sports studies is the development of physical skills, but also looking at the whole sporting culture and its significance to us as individuals and as a society."

The end result, said Ian Culpan, was likely to be a strengthening of sport in schools.


135,862 of the 200,000 plus students at secondary school in 1998 represented their schools in at least one sport.

71,696 were boys and 64,186 were girls.

Rugby and netball had the most participants. In 1998, over 30,000 students represented their school in rugby and over 29,000 in netball.

Top 10 secondary school sports* 1998

::::::::Sport:::::::::::::::: Number of students
::::::::::::::::who represented their school

::::::::Touch rugby::::::::::::::::10,118
::::::::Tennis:::::::::::::::: :::: 7,352
::::::::Badminton:::::::::::::::: 6,165

::::::::* In Athletics, which covers a variety of sports, 15,460 students represented their schools.

Sport and the Health and Physical Education Curriculum.

Sport studies is a key area of learning in the Health and Physical Education Curriculum. However, it does not mean simply playing sport. Instead students look at the effects of sport from social, cultural and scientific perspectives.

Overall, the curriculum encourages physical activity for enjoyment and as part of a healthy lifestyle. It also recognises that physical activity encompasses more than simply sport.

Numbers of sports helpers

In 1998, more than 33,850 people helped provide sports experiences for secondary school students, according to the Hillary Commission.

Teachers accounted for 44% of the coaches, managers and officials who helped provide secondary school sport.

Related Web Links

The Hillary Commission's website at has information on its school programmes, KiwiSport and Sportfit.

To find out more about the America's Cup visit or or Scoop Auckland

Information on New Zealand rugby and netball can be found at these sites or


© Scoop Media

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