It is exciting to challenge yourself against the best. It is during this struggle, that your behaviours and values are tested. It is also the place where one needs to demonstrate vulnerability. By facing a tough opponent and putting everything into your preparation and performance, you create an opportunity to gain great satisfaction when success is achieved, but also open yourself up to significant disappointment should goals not be attained. Our challenge as educators is to remind pupils that it is not actually the winning or losing that is the most important thing, far from it. If they have done everything to be the best they can be, then this constitutes success……this is when they achieve their excellence. 

If excellence is achieving your very best with the resources and support available to you, then we believe that all our pupils can achieve this. The level a pupil is playing at isn’t the most important thing – whether they are playing amongst first team players competing for a national cup, performing in a competitive match for the first time or maximising their performance levels by developing a new skill in training, if they apply the right attitude and work hard, then they will find that excellence can be achieved by all.   

We believe that young people want to be challenged but this challenge must be appropriate. This is why, in line with the views of our Deputy Director of Sport Charlie Ellison, we have increased the conversation around the support-challenge balance that the pupils have. On the one hand we want to push and challenge people but we also need to support them as we do this. If we do not then they may encounter overtraining or be left deflated if goals are not met. On the other hand if we overly support without offering sufficient challenge then pupils may not realise their full potential. We believe excellence is achieved when you have a balance of both. The high expectations we have can help pupils reach levels that they previously may not have thought they could. This is something we observe regularly. We get great satisfaction seeing the joy and confidence that pupils gain from surpassing their expectations.

It is a challenge to sustain this across a wide range of sports and at all levels of participation but we must try. The College has achieved success on the sports field for some time now but we have worked hard to try to increase the consistency with which this happens. It has been fulfilling to see multiple teams in a range of different sports winning more regularly or progressing to the later stages of national competitions. In the last three years, we have seen this in cricket, equestrian, football, hockey, netball, rifle shooting, squash and tennis. Not only this, but our pupils are competing in more inter-school fixtures than ever before and the numbers participating in competitive squads and Inter-House sports are at an all-time high.

We believe this increase in participation is partly because we encourage pupils to maintain their breadth of involvement when they arrive at Bradfield. The literature highlights that long-term outcomes are much more positive in terms of reduced incidence of injury, longevity of playing sport, and one’s enjoyment, if there are opportunities for young people to participate in more than one activity. Allied with this, we also believe it is because the community demonstrates respect and care for all pupils’ participation in sport.  

We do our best to provide good coaching, equitable use of facilities and respect for the achievements of pupils at all levels.

Our ‘Teams of the Week’ released each Monday morning, highlights outstanding performances from pupils at all age groups and all levels. By showing this respect for the pupils’ participation, they respond positively. They commit to representing the College in significant numbers and when other teams achieve success, they are desperate to support them and share their appreciation for their success. This was evident at both the ISFA Cup final and National Hockey Finals this year, where the pupil body loved supporting their peers as they represented the community. 

Whilst we believe breadth of participation to be important, we have tried to balance this with providing some pupils the chance to specialise as they progress up through the College, if they are determined to pursue a particular sport at the highest level. Where before we would likely have seen all Bradfieldians playing three different sports across each of the three terms, we are now offering some flexibility for individuals who we feel will benefit from focusing more on a specific activity. That said, even with this focus, we do look to maintain some breadth of sporting challenge through what we call a one-term plus model.

Take our hockey players for example, some will play hockey as their main sport in the Michaelmas Term and want to continue playing Club Hockey outside of Bradfield. We can then offer them the flexibility to step away from playing the Tier 1 sport during the Lent Term, whilst continuing to train in one-to-ones or small groups at Bradfield. Additionally, some of our tennis and cricket players will begin training more regularly during the Lent Term in preparation for competitive action during the Summer Term. This approach enables us to help pupils plan their sporting journey according to their specific goals.

I love school sport. I am a great believer in it, what it strives to achieve and the processes we work through in our attempts to do this.

I, therefore, try to protect the idea of pupils representing the school on a Saturday because it is a terrific way for young people to experience sport. I would suggest it is often the most enjoyable sport they will play in their life. We do, however, recognise that there are times when the right thing for a pupil’s sporting journey is to allow them to step away to play a big club fixture or to represent their county, regional or national side. If we see this as being the most beneficial thing for them to achieve their sporting goals, then we fully support this. 

We believe that one of the key drivers in creating a successful sporting environment is how supportive the wider community is. What makes this work at Bradfield, is the way our curricular and co-curricular experiences sit side-by-side. Most of our sports team coaches are also teachers, and for them, the same support-challenge balance is as key in the classroom as it is on the sports field.  

The introduction of the Strength and Conditioning Suite five years ago has enabled us to provide a high-quality physical support environment for an increasing number of pupils. What began as a facility for a handful of first team players, has now grown to cater for a quarter of the pupils in the school on a weekly basis – a statistic we are very proud of. Through this provision, we can promote good behaviours and reduce the number of injuries that occur during sporting endeavours, something that supports the pupils’ overall well-being.

When you combine the outstanding support and guidance the pupils receive from the coaches and teachers who work with them, with the excellent facilities we have at our disposal, and our supportive school culture, you get a true platform for excellence. 

Greater participation in sport at all levels also allows it to be a great unifying factor across the College. The ISFA match really captured the Zeitgeist of the Lent Term at Bradfield and whilst there may have been only 20 players in the squad the entire College was just one breath behind them as they supported their team all the way to victory in what proved to be an edge-of-the-seat match. Indeed enjoyment of the match went well beyond the stadium with members of the Bradfield Society following the Twitter feed and commentary led by the current Housemaster of Stone House (E) and former BBC sports commentator Jonny Saunders (F 88-93). The ISFA match united the whole Bradfield community.