The role that sport (and the School Games) can play in supporting young people and developing positive behaviour choices.

Posted 1st April 2021

In this blog, Development Coach Niamh Mourton, one of a small team of Development Coaches specialising in Alternative Provision, shares her thoughts around positive behaviour and the link to School Games.

Behaviour is defined as the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others. It can also be defined as the way in which a person behaves in response to a particular situation or stimulus. Over the past year, one of the key questions I have received as both a university lecturer and tutor on various courses is around behaviour of young people and how PE, physical activity and sport can be used in a positive way to help with perceived negative behaviours.

Sporting behaviour is defined as sportsmanship, it links to ethical behaviour, fair play, and respect. Sport has long been championed for its power to help build character, courage, integrity, communication and give purpose. It can help to underpin values such as a sense of responsibility to yourself, respect for others, accountability, self-discipline, fair play and honesty.

With this in mind, why still do so many of our pupils in alternative provision (AP) with the most underlined behavioural issues, not get access to this powerful tool of sport? Sport has the potential to help change not only their lives but the lives of others that these young people interact with.

We are still seeing that young people in AP are not getting access to meaningful sporting opportunities through the School Games. This access could help to scaffold behavioural change and have enormous potential for creation of positive and behavioural lifestyle change that can continue into adulthood. With behavioural issues on the rise and the number of young people accessing alternative provision increasing, we must look at the role that sport and the School Games can play as an outlet not only for frustrations and worries but also how it can play a major part in helping young people to manage their emotions and build key life skills. The tag line of the School Games inspires young people to be physically active for life through positive experiences of daily activity and competition. 

From consultation with AP school staff, young people accessing AP and School Games Organisers with APs in their areas, the topic of behaviour and appropriate competitive school sport varies. AP school staff feel that they are sometimes not connected to the School Games and if they are, they feel the understanding is not there on the needs of their students (smaller class sizes with high variation in skill aquisition and sport skills for example). They also admit to having worries about how their students will behave and how they will be perceived by others. Young people in APs want to access the School Games but feel that they are sometimes either not allowed or not trusted (especially in terms of conduct and sports leader roles). Those that have accessed School Games feel that their needs have to be understood more. “I went to a football competition for my school, I could play county football and I was against people who couldn’t kick the ball. I ended up coaching them and not playing myself. I enjoyed it but I came to play but it wouldn’t have been fair if I did”. SGOs expressed their desire to engage with APs but sometimes feel that they can’t access the right people in an AP to have the right conversations.

Perhaps it is a lack of communication, understanding and meaningful consultation between stake holders that seems to be key.  SGOs want schools and pupils from AP accessing their School Games events, AP schools want access to the School Games for their students, and young people want to play sport for their schools and to be heard and valued. All of these stakeholders have to find ways that work in their local area so they can discard habits of assumption and get to a place where everyone’s opinions and insight can be asked, considered and valued. Each brings something valuable that could enhance the School Games.

If we look at best practice in this area, there are some great examples of how meaningful access to sporting opportunities can provide great advantages for all involved. StreetChance (partnership between the Cricket Foundation and Barclays Spaces for Sports) ran weekly cricket sessions for young people in some of the most socially deprived areas. They found that this programme had a positive impact on the young people involved and substantial improvements were seen in behaviour and attitude. Kickz a football programme in North London used ‘the power of football to create safer, stronger, more respectful communities through the development of young people’s potential’. They found that the involvement of young people in football and their commitment to the sessions provided more opportunities for alternative activities and helped to reduce opportunities for bad behaviour.

YST Lead Inclusion School Willow Tree Primary in London have been exploring the engagement of APs into the School Games. Working with both a secondary pupil referral unit (PRU) in Hounslow and a social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) school in Ealing, West London (with neither having previously participated in the School Games) they led consultation and delivery connected to the School Games. Pupils valued being asked why, how and what they would like to do as part of the School Games and engaged with the process enthusiastically and sustainably.

When we look at behaviour which seems to be a major barrier to young people accessing sport and the School Games, we must remember that ‘behaviour is communication’. “Behind every behaviour there is a feeling and beneath every feeling is a need. When we meet that need rather than focus on the behaviour, we begin to unpick the cause not the symptom” (Ashleigh Warner - Psychologist). When we perceive negative behaviours especially related to sport or access to sport, we must remember that this ‘need’ must be explored – what is that young person trying to communicate with us? How do we listen to this, take on the insight and use it to plan for meaningful School Games opportunities?

Sport is a powerful tool for lifestyle and behavior change, when young people engage in sport and invest in themselves through training, they learn to fail forward to find success, and success fuels success. Therefore, what starts off as participation in the School Games can lead to much more, we know that sport can ignite passion and help to teach our young people life skills. Let’s start to recognise behaviour as communication and let’s begin to drive positive behaviour change through promotion of meaningful, inspiring, accessible and appropriate competitive school sport for all young people in our area. If the School Games is in fact about ‘inspiring young people to be physically active for life through positive experiences of daily activity and competition’, let us make sure that no one gets left behind and that all young people are included.

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Dr. Niamh-Elizabeth Mourton is an inclusion and human rights specialist working alongside various national and international organisations. She works on various innovative projects looking at equality, diversity and inclusion into sport, physical education, and physical activity for all people. She is a University lecturer and researcher, and she owns a successful online health and wellness business. Niamh is passionate about empowering everyone to use their voice and be heard and take their own personal responsibility for helping to create an inclusive society. 

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