How Sport in Prep instils confidence & resilience

From inter-house matches to national competitions, Heywood Prep’s Director of Sport explains how his subject instils confidence and resilience

He played for his county in three sports and has an impressive golf handicap of three so, when it came to choosing his career, Chris Knight had no doubt he wanted to pass on his passion for sport.  

“I played cricket, hockey and golf for Hampshire,” says Mr Knight. “My dad was a keen cricketer too, and he gave me a great love for the game. After school I spent a year at Manly Cricket Club in Sydney, Australia, as part of my County Cricket development, but I knew that ultimately, I wanted to teach.”

The decision soon paid off. After a four-year BEd Physical Education training course, Mr Knight taught in Bristol and Kent then taught at a boarding school in the Swiss Alps, before returning to the South West. And now, here at Heywood Prep, he is busy translating his passion into results as Director of Sport.

“There are some incredible opportunities for the children here at Heywood,” he says. “In just the last few days, Bath Rugby has been in to coach Year 4 girls, we have competed against several Bath schools at a cross country event and we took five of our students to Dorset, to swim in an ISA (Independent Schools Association) gala. The winners go on to compete in the national finals at the London Olympic pool. Of course, we have been busy with all our usual rugby and hockey fixtures too – there is always a huge amount going on.”

Team spirit

But here at Heywood Prep, sport isn’t justabout trophies and triumphs. It’s also about instilling confidence, resilience and learning how to work together as a team.

“People sometimes underestimate the value of sport,” says Mr Knight. “Whether we are playing hockey, rugby or doing athletics, it has such huge incredible physical and emotional benefits. It teaches children how to communicate, support one another and think on their feet. It helps them develop resilience too, and the ability to rally in the face of adversity.”

At Heywood Prep, sport starts right from the Early Years. Children enjoy ball skills, athletics, dance and gymnastics from Nursery, while basic rugby, hockey and netball skills begin in Reception. At all ages and in all disciplines, children benefit from the school’s specialist teaching team, which includes experienced rugby, hockey and netball coaches.  

“We have a fantastic teaching team, who offer incredible expertise,” says Mr Knight. “Together, we have created a real culture of participation here at Heywood. The children approach sport with such enthusiasm, and we constantly see their confidence soar. By the time they reach Year 3 they are doing over four hours of Games and PE every week, which includes a weekly fixture too.

“Whether a child is one of our county level players or a beginner, there is something for everyone, from hockey skills sessions, to inter-house rugby matches, cross-country events and netball tournaments. Even if they don’t naturally lean towards sport, they relish being part of a team with their friends. They get to play at a level that suits them, and that gives them a sense of pride. Our children also learn to be humble in victory, and graceful in defeat.”

Stretching and supporting

In addition to lessons and fixtures, regular Individualised Learning (IL) sessions are knitted into the timetable at Heywood Prep. These small-group sessions are carefully tailored to students’ specific needs. They include specialist hockey and netball skills to stretch the top players and support sessions, specifically devised to bolster anyone who needs help in areas like balance and coordination.

Mr Knight adds, “Our children love their weekly PE lessons too, where we cover core skills including agility, flexibility, cardio and pacing. Each time we finish off with a fun ‘test’, where they put what we’ve covered into practice. They can win a gold, silver or bronze star sticker, which they proudly display alongside their names on a chart in the school hall. They have so much fun, they barely realise they are learning skills that are fundamental, no matter what sport they play.”

Importantly, the Heywood Prep sports timetable is devised with clear development pathways in mind. The aim, says Mr Knight, is that every child is given the opportunity to explore their ability in a given discipline and take their passion as far as they can. Cross country for example, starts with PE lessons covering fundamentals like cardio and pacing. After that, the children will put their newfound abilities to the test with an inter-house cross country competition.

“Next, we invite local primary schools to a Mid-Wilts cross country event, then we’ll take part in a Bath schools’ competition and the Wishford West Schools event,” explains Mr Knight. “From there, the strongest runners go on to compete at the ISA South West qualifier and onto the national final, which is usually held at a major sporting venue.  

“Ultimately, we are giving the children early exposure to incredible sporting events and opportunities, and that gives them such a confidence boost. Some students might be a touch over-awed when they first visit somewhere like Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium – where the Commonwealth Games will be held, or the London Olympic Aquatic Centre– but on their second visit they walk tall, their chests puffed out with pride. It’s an amazing learning curve.”

Sporting adventures

In addition to competing at regional and national levels, Heywood Prep students take part in sporting adventures too. Year 4 recently enjoyed a sport’s tour to Devon, where they entered the ISA Under 9 mixed tag rugby competition. After an evening of movies and games with their friends, they then bunked down at Dartmoor activity centre, before playing rugby and hockey against local schools. 

“When it comes to opponents here in the South West, we are spoilt for choice,” adds Mr Knight. “We play against the independent schools in the Bath area, but we also go up against the other schools in The Wishford Group. We host regular rugby and athletic festivals too, where we invite four or five other schools. There is always such a great atmosphere – we put up our Heywood Prep sail flags, offer a match tea and encourage parents to get involved from the side-lines! It feels special and the children love it, whatever their level. The festivals also give them the opportunity to play against a great range of abilities.”

And while sport inevitably comes with highs and lows, Mr Knight says it is this rollercoaster of emotions that teaches vital life skills. “We give the children a space where they can learn and try new things, without worrying about failure,” he explains. “Our students know that mistakes happen, but that the key thing is to support one another as a team.

“They also learn how to pick themselves up and keep on fighting if a fixture doesn’t go to plan. Sport gives them confidence too, and of course it’s a fantastic way to develop decision-making skills. Ultimately, it helps children develops a passion and resilience that will prove invaluable in all areas of life.”