Principal of Fahan School argues benefits of school sport are underplayed

06 April 2016

Tony Freeman, Principal of Fahan School in Hobart, argues for the benefits of school sport in building team spirit, resilience and confidence for all children in the Hobart Mercury:

Talking Point: Benefits of school sport are underplayed


THE benefits of strong sports programs at school are immense to students and the school whether it be in a state or independent system.

School sport is undervalued and underfunded statewide.

A perceived over-importance of state and national elite sporting pathways discourages the inclusive participation critical to engendering lifelong sporting and fitness activity that leads to better health and less pressure on Tasmania’s overworked health system.

A wise physical education teacher once explained to me that her teams compete with opposition players, not against them. This encapsulates a significant value of school sport. Sport is about more than the scoreboard, although the scoreboard provides lessons.

In education, the sense of belonging a student develops is often underestimated. It is a foundation on which to build self-esteem and confidence.

Being part of a team brings a sense of belonging – and accomplishment when challenges are overcome together, win or lose.

Research affirms a strong link between physical activity and academic performance.

Too often in education, we see a talented athlete, or even ones not so talented, focus on one sport. If specialisation occurs at the cost of enjoyment, it can cause problems. Other negative aspects of concentrating on one sport include:

HIGHER levels of adult sporting inactivity.

INCREASED likelihood of overuse injury, being 70-93 per cent more likely to be injured.

GREATER risk of burnout due to stress and lack of enjoyment.

 Sport helps build resilience in students. They learn to cope with disappointments in life, hopefully accepting they can’t always win or blame others for their failures, but can still enjoy participating.

Schools can help avoid or mitigate Ugly Parent Syndrome by establishing values and principles.

From kindergarten and up, schools promote the ideals of inclusion. In modern society, there are competing demands on student time, especially with part-time employment.

There is more pressure from state sporting bodies for students to commit to intensive programs promoting unrealistic pathways to the exclusion of their participation in school teams.

There are elite Tasmanian programs in AFL football and soccer that demand students only play/train for them and not for their schools. The reality is only a very small percentage of athletes in Tasmania, whatever the sport, make it to national level.

Politicians and educators complain about poor participation in some schools. There is an apparent lack of desire from some schools to promote sport as part of their culture. In Tasmania, there is an historic disillusionment from teachers whose efforts at promoting physical activity via school sports have long been undervalued. Too many schools abrogate responsibility to school sport by encouraging students to play club sport.

The past is the past. I want to see all schools, primary and secondary, embrace school sport. We may not all be able to play centre-half forward for Collingwood. What we need to encourage is a love of sport for life, just like lifelong learning.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see all schools in Tasmania going to Year 12 with students taking pride in representing them in teams across a wide variety of sports.

In my early teaching career, I coached football teams at George Town High School and cricket and football teams at Riverside High School. One highlight was winning the annual Tug-O-War at the school athletics carnival in front of thousands of parents and students at York Park (now Aurora Stadium) with Riverside High in 1985.

It’s not about playing footy, netball, soccer, hockey, cricket or tennis. It’s about finding through the concept of “team” how you can fit in and contribute. It builds friendship, resilience and spirit, whatever school your child attends.

Tony Freeman is principal of Fahan School. He has also taught at Scotch Oakburn College, Riverside High School and George Town High School.


Freeman, T. (2016, April 4). Talking point: Benefits of school sport are underplayed. Mercury. Retrieved from: