A Time to Breathe

Covid-19: A Time to Breathe

Change always brings opportunity. Our opportunity during lockdown, from a sports perspective, has been to step off the roller coaster that is week-in, week-out fixtures, pre-seasons that intrude on current seasons, early morning HP sessions, tours, festivals; and just breathe for a moment. The opportunity to take stock has been interesting.

The role of sport in school is (was?) fundamentally to arm scholars with an array of social skills and the opportunity to develop important character traits that will hold them in good stead for their future:

In the mornings we do English, Maths, Science etc. and in the afternoons and most Saturdays we learn about teamwork, commitment, humility, perseverance, pressure, tolerance, grit and so on. Through these combined experiences - if they are maximised - we can open doors, create memories and forge lifelong friendships.

For illustration, allow me to pose a train of thought that has two stations...

Firstly, has the role of sport in schools been hijacked by commercial vices? Has the marketability of a winning 1st team pushed school programmes to the precipice of mirroring professional setups? Rankings, sponsors, TV games, poaching… once money enters the arena, it is inevitable that the dark and dingy underworld will start to rot and decay the roots and original good intentions of school sport. Certainly, in boys’ schools in our country, there is evidence that suggests this is happening; and unfortunately, it seems the movement is contagious – especially if you want to compete favourably in the ‘big league’. And so the train steams on, school to school, station to station.

Arriving at the next terminal; another question that needs answering, country-wide, is why don’t more boys continue playing sport after school? I’m not talking about the >1% who sign contracts with academies. I’m talking about the majority who should be playing for a varsity res or club; you know, social stuff, just because they love the game. Why are the clubs in our city, once vibrant, now struggling to survive?

st charles rugby player braising for a tackle

This topic could be debated at length and there would certainly be more than one creditable conclusion. Briefly though, a contributing factor, in my mind, is the traditional South African model of coaching. Boys’ schools have traded and relied for decades on discipline, tradition, uniformity, gees… almost always supported by fiercely autocratic coaching styles. The whistle hierarchy or top down approach has been the inherited coaching style from one generation to the next for as long as I can remember. And the ‘system’s’ loyal subjects have become accustomed to just reacting, as if presided over by a remote control.

I have been researching ideas around the art of coaching the Gen Z teenager – these youngsters see the world through a different lens and in order to stay relevant we need to adapt. While there will always be a need for leadership – the train’s conductor – and a place for motivational direction, especially in a school group or team context, if the individual has worked out his ‘why’ as opposed to being told what his ‘why’ should be, the two outcomes could have very contrasting levels of longevity. Similarly, in an academic scenario, could be the habit of memorising work as opposed to understanding it. Remote controlling will serve the school’s purposes and sporting ambitions – but it doesn’t do much for the individual. The effects of this cultural coaching style, combined with the sudden lack of rivalries and short-term challenges, has left most teenagers – it seems – spending more time recently on couches than your average Amber Valley retiree.

I’m pleased that one of our core values at St Charles College is self-discipline. This value will be truly tested in the coming weeks and months. Discipline, enforced, is effective, but we see huge value in trying to get our boys into a mental space whereby they can make good decisions for themselves, by themselves, without being remote-controlled.

st charles students doing a workout on the fieldThe Saints Wellness Programme is for the individual. The whistle hierarchy will be absent, the coach or captain’s motivational team talks will be no more. The “this season’s goal” is gone. It is up to the individual, at last for his own good; and yes, while the outcomes will no doubt have positive spin-offs for our Saints teams in 2021 and beyond, ultimately, this chapter of our sports story is one that will open the door of opportunity to bring lifelong healthy habits back to the fore. It is no longer about getting fit and strong to help the team to become better than before, nor is it to help the team beat the guys from down the road. Now, it is about each boy taking ownership of his Wellness - it is a personal journey - the definition simply being: Having a healthy body, mind and spirit. It has started this term (thanks entirely to the ‘Rona) but while we pray daily that the virus will pass swiftly, we also hope that this new breath of perspective will resonate for the long term.

The Saints Wellness Programme has already kicked off. It is voluntary. I hope the majority don’t wait for the remote control to be pointed in their direction.

Stay safe and be well! - Mr Rowan Irons (St Charles College, Director of Sport)

“Exercise, in some studies, has been shown to be as effective as medication, therapy and even a combination of the two, when it comes to dealing with stress. Whatever the veracity of these results we know that exercise is essential” - Dr Rob Pluke

2 Responses

  1. Adrian Simmons

    Brilliant article. So much truth in the above article.

  2. Martin Steyn

    Truly a wonderful article with a deep and considered insight. The article reinforced our belief that we made the right choice to send our son to SCC next year.

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