Are we losing talent at an early age?

We all have different memories of school sport – whether good or bad, ask a friend and they will have a strong opinion.

All kids can find something enjoyable in sport and they should be given the chance to try out lots of different activities. But what about those who are gifted at a particular sport and play for teams out of school, are we doing enough for these individuals?

As a performance coach, I see day-to-day how important school sporting activities are. They are where the majority of kids learn about and experience sports and this understanding can have a profound effect on the rest of their lives. In my opinion, everyone should be encouraged to participate in sports for the health and wellbeing benefits they provide, but I also believe that individual excellence should be embraced and nurtured. Would you put an F level maths student with an A* maths student? No. Yet we see this all the time in PE and sports lessons. Talent starts from what we harvest at this core age and I believe that if we suffocate individuals at this early point and don’t give them the chance to shine, it can hinder their opportunities to potentially arrive at an elite level later in life.

On the other hand, is it fair to the individual who is not as talented to be exposed to or suffer the psychological barriers faced with feeling inferior and undervalued in a sporting environment? This can create a heightened sense of fear in this situation and over the years I have seen many individuals become disengaged due to similar experiences to those I have described. This ultimately results in them leading a life where exercise and physical activity is limited due to resentment. I mean, not everyone will be David Goggins (if you don’t know who he is then I recommend that you look him up https://davidgoggins.com/)

Play Fair vs Competition

Over the past decade the approach to sport and exercise has hindered the UK’s ability to continually produce high-level talent. Many schools teach non-competitive traits. There are some schools who do a great job and get all of this right, but often it’s left to the out of school coaches to nurture talented pupils. It’s time we reinstated healthy levels of competition.  I mean… It’s OK to compete – we need to show the future generation it’s OK to lose but also give them the tools they need to learn how to win. There are many life lessons in winning and losing, and the emotional rollercoaster these outcomes present are invaluable in enhancing skills such as decision making and managing pressurised situations. Both traits that as adults we would continually like to improve.

So what’s the answer?

  • Offer a wide range of sport opportunities so that all kids have the chance to find something that they enjoy
  • Teach healthy habits as part of the regular curriculum and link this to PE lessons for all students (not only those studying PE). Many schools do a great job of teaching health and fitness in the classroom but neglect to link it to PE classes.
  • Divide groups by ability rather than age