The World Cup has, as it tends to do, spilled out from the back pages of the newspapers to become more or less unavoidable. There is also plenty of television coverage. So luckily, contrary to the expectations of many, it’s been a big success so far. Even the England team played in a way that was apparently almost unrecognisable to the die-hards.
One of the consequences of how teams are playing is that there hasn’t been a drawn match in the first four days. So half the teams have experienced the thrill of an opening victory – but the other half have had to reconcile themselves to defeat. It’s interesting how those defeats have been far easier to take when the team has played well and is closer to being satisfied with its own performance. A good performance makes a team much more resilient and able to bounce back for the next match.
For girls to become strong and confident it is really important for them to learn resilience too. This cannot be done merely through a narrow academic programme. This is why we believe in sport for all at St Mary’s and why we have such a stunning breadth of sports from which to choose, including synchronised swimming, fencing, clay-pigeon shooting, archery, competitive riding, sailing as well as lacrosse, hockey, netball , tennis and athletics. Owning your victories and your defeats builds capacity for girls to take risks and it teaches them that it is possible to recover from setbacks. It’s not about throwing caution to the wind. It’s about behaving in a way that allows a girl to make the most of her abilities.
Sadly, there are also lots of stories around the World Cup that highlight how long it will be before we see the same level of attention paid to women’s soccer and women’s sport in general. There may have been some improvement on the part of the BBC in its coverage since the 2012 Olympics, but it still feels fairly token. And it probably comes as no great surprise to learn that girls in Brazil still face a fight to play football – in the home of the World Cup tournament – and in the game in general.
It’s no wonder that we continue to face the challenges that were outlined by Helen Fraser, Chief Executive of The Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), recently in a speech at their Annual Conference. Helen drew on research from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation which suggests only a quarter of girls in England meet current recommended levels of physical activity each week, with the proportion taking part in regular sport falling steeply after the age of 10. One in five girls do no physical activity at all, twice the proportion of boys, the research suggests. Consider this and then think about how other research suggests that more than 80% of senior women business leaders played organised sports while growing up, and most believe sport made them more disciplined, resilient and competitive in their careers.
We can’t expect all our girls to love lacrosse, or hockey, or even football, but this issue is why I have made equal access to sporting opportunities a key part of our vision for education at St Mary’s Calne. Until society moves on, it is one of the big advantages of a girls’ school that our girls can enjoy their sport – whatever it is – here among their peers, with huge and genuine support and the minimum of self-consciousness.