It may be a blustery and chilly Thursday lunchtime in March but it’s clear that none of the 25 or so Pre-Prep boys and girls enjoying club activities on the tennis courts as part of Harrodian’s Sports Leaders programme would rather be inside in the warm. Under the watchful eyes of four PE teachers, eight Sports Leaders from the 15s are teaching them new ball skills by supervising ‘starter’ hockey, rugby and netball games. The shrieks of laughter echoing around the pitches are enough to tell you that the youngsters are loving it. During a break in play, I ask a couple of them what they think of their teenage leaders. ‘It’s fun playing with the big boys and girls,’ one girl tells me. ’I'm going to be a leader too when I’m bigger,’ her friend chips in.
Sports Leaders is a ready-made training framework (created by the organization of the same name), which was introduced at Harrodian in 2012. Under the management of sports teacher, Arash Soleimani, it has become an integral part of the school’s leadership programme. The idea is that, by organising sporting sessions in weekly clubs for Pre-Prep and Prep children, GCSE and Sixth Form students can acquire five key leadership skills – communication, self-belief, self-management, problem solving and teamwork. ‘We’re using the medium of sport to teach coaching essentials,’ says Mr Soleimani. ‘But it's clear the skills they’re learning on the playing field have a much wider relevance. Taking responsibility, for example, is a key value of the Sports department but it's also a vital attribute, whatever direction you take in life or your working career.’
Taking responsibility is a key value of the Sports department but it's also a vital attribute, whatever direction you take in life or your working career
Arash Soleimani, Sports teacher and Sports Leaders supervisor
Sports Leaders Club has been a winner among senior Harrodians. In 2017, for example, 24 students in the 15s, many of them girls, took part in the year-long Level 1 course with three quarters of the group opting to sign up for the Level 2 course when they joined the Sixth Form last September.
GCSE student Gus, initially joined up because he knew the qualification would give him a ‘useful extra edge in finding a part-time coaching job’ but both the training and the feedback provided by the PE teachers who supervise the scheme has had a bigger personal impact than he imagined, opening his eyes to the qualities required of an effective leader. ‘I’ve discovered how much advance planning and hard work it takes to be a good coach,’ he says. ‘And I’ve got better at managing children, staying calm and giving instructions. I feel better equipped to manage the crises that may come along if you’re refereeing or coaching.’ Fellow Level 1 Sports Leaders Zanthe, Tabby and Mia tell me they have also enjoyed learning what taking responsibility really means. ‘Managing a group, teaching skills, practising them and then running a game successfully is much harder than it looks,’ says Zanthe as we chat after the club session. ‘Learning to do it has given me a new respect for what teachers do.’
I’ve got better at managing children, staying calm and giving instructions and better equipped to manage crises that may come along
Gus, 15s student and Level 1 Sports Leader
Just as important, all these young leaders agree that working with Prep and Pre-Prep pupils helps breed a school-wide sense of togetherness. ‘It’s great that Harrodian is a place where older and younger children work and play together,’ says Gus. ‘There’s a special sense of community and it’s good fun.’
Photographs by Manuela Zanotti