Middleton reveals inspiration behind School of Sport column

Tim Middleton

IT’S been over five years since StandardSport columnist Tim Middleton started his weekly column named “School of Sport."The weekly articles have been very popular with readers who passionately follow school sports in Zimbabwe as well as sports fans in general.Many people have been reading these School of Sport articles by Middleton each week for over five years now, but some might wonder who the person behind them is? We caught up with him this week for a question-and-answer interview below.Q. So, Tim, why do you write these articles week by week?

A. It is very simple, really! I love sport! I believe in the incredible impact sport can have on every child. I have played sport for close on sixty years and have worked in education for over forty years and I see more than ever that the two are absolutely integral to each other. However, over the last twenty years my love for sport has faded because of what it has become at school; I want us to rethink why and how we are doing sport.

Q. You say you have always loved sport. Where did that love come from?

A. Without a doubt, from my parents. My father especially, was a very talented but extremely humble all-round sportsman who always encouraged and subtly coaxed (not coached) me to do better each time I played, without setting targets or making demands. I was brought up playing sport, starting with golf at the age of three, kicking a football around in the garden for hours every day with my older brother and friends. Then I was privileged to go to schools that provided great opportunities for sport.

Q. So, what sports did you play?

A. I represented my senior and junior schools at first team level in rugby, cricket, soccer, hockey, basketball and athletics as well as at house level in squash, swimming, cross-country, tennis and fives. If any team needed a player for any sport I would be quick to put my hand up! Thereafter I played sport socially for college, staff and church teams in hockey, soccer, cricket, rugby. In later years, I ran a marathon (one was enough) and continue to run now and play golf.

Q. You also mention that your love of sport has been fading in recent years – why is that?

A. In short, I just feel we have lost the plot when it comes to sport in schools; we bring to it what we see in professional sport on the television when in fact I believe we should be taking what is meant to be done in school sport to professional sport. The ridiculous celebrations, the over-coaching from the side-lines (fixtures are exams, to see what has been learned), the attempt to win at all costs, the behaviour of spectators, the desperate pushiness of parents (more worried about their reputation than their child’s education), all go against what school sport stands for.

Q. But, now, some readers will perhaps be asking what qualifications or what authority do you have to present these views?

A. Firstly, I would say that I have played, coached, officiated, administered and watched sport for a long time while being active in education for years, which gives me some experience.Secondly, I would add that I had the enormous privilege of playing hockey competitively for my country at full international level thirty-five times, (as well as many times at University, Under 21 and later at Over 40 levels) before coming to work in Zimbabwe at the age of 27 .Thirdly, I have coached sport at school first team level, second team and Under 15, as well as at club level. Fourthly, over the years I have been involved in education (including sport in education) as a teacher, housemaster and headmaster in both independent and government schools in four different countries. Fifthly I have spoken at various national sports conventions and numerous educational forums while, sixthly, I have written books as well as articles on both sport and education.

Q. What are you hoping to achieve by writing these articles?

A. I just want us all to think again why and how we are doing sport. I do believe we have lost all sense of perspective with regard to sport in our schools (and life too, in fact). I really want coaches (many of whom are not trained to coach sport let alone coach children), parents, boards, heads, national sports associations, pupils; everyone to understand that school sport is not the same as professional sport and must not be treated as such.School sport is done at school (there is nothing profound in that!); school is about learning (again, that is pretty obvious!); it follows therefore that sport at school is also about learning, not primarily or purely about winning. Inter-school fixtures are not for the parents’ entertainment, nor indeed the school’s reputation but for the child’s learning. Far less attention should be placed on the results and a lot more on what the children are learning. These are vital lessons that every child must take into adult life if society is to have any hope. They need to learn how to win and lose as well as how to cope with winning and losing.

Q. How would you answer those who might say you are old-fashioned, that sport has moved on from what you grew up with?

A. Things change but values do not. Sport, just like life, is about values. If we do not stand by values society will collapse. The English Premier League currently proudly declares there is “No Room For Racism” which is absolutely right but there is equally no room either for the utter disrespect that coaches and players show towards officials. The bottom line is this: we do sport at school for the same reason that we do academics at school — for youngsters to learn, not simply skills or tactics but values. A better person makes a better player.

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