School sport: why strength and conditioning is not just for elite athletes

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Participating in sports and exercise requires you to be competent in a large variety of athletic skills that include co-ordination, balance, fitness, strength and speed as well as sport specific skills among others. These athletic skills become more challenging if you aim to participate at higher levels of competition, but even at an entry level some basic athletic competency and fitness are required and can be a significant barrier to participation for many.

Those who are naturally more athletic or who have been given specific training often take this for granted. These people don’t think twice about trying a new sport or activity and will typically relish the challenge. The same is not true for many young people.

In schools, we have a duty to ensure all our pupils have the physical skills they need in order to participate in a wide range of sports and forms or exercise. This is of course the major aim of physical education (PE) and a key reason why PE and sport should be considered separate in a curriculum. Simply playing sports will not prepare every child for continued participation, as sports do not include all the necessary developmental practice required.

A developmental approach based purely on competitive sports would be like dropping a novice musician into a band rehearsal and expecting them to play along without giving them some prior understanding of music theory such as chords, scales and how to play the instrument itself. Furthermore, what often happens in school sport is the "sporty" kids tend to dominate and as a result get even better than the kids who are hardly involved. Youth sport is also filled with all kinds of heightened social factors that can make it even harder for some kids to develop the necessary skills.

In recent years there has been an increased awareness and a growing body of evidence showing how strength and conditioning can complement and support the work that happens in a school’s PE programme. After all, both have very similar aims, namely improving transferable fitness qualities, developing fundamental movement skills and building confidence.

Whilst strength and conditioning as a profession is typically associated with elite sports performance, it can also hold significant value for training all members of our communities and all pupils in our schools. In fact, compared to supporting elite athletes it may have an even bigger role to play in supporting the young people who need the most developmental attention.

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