Women’s sport is making headlines more than ever before. The England football ‘Lionesses’ attracted some of the biggest TV audiences of the year; the profile of the Women’s Ashes has been growing and the women players (some of them still girls themselves) garnered much of the attention at Wimbledon. It’s incredibly positive to have so many more role models than at any time in the past.
However, there is still a huge issue with women being physically inactive and the issue often starts at school. We all know about the increase in obesity rates, but I was fascinated recently to read about the effect of sport participation on our general psychological well-being and in particular mental toughness or resilience – qualities which lay at the heart of much historical discrimination against women.
Sport has always been an important part of my life and, as the head of St Mary’s Calne, I am personally committed to giving every girl who comes here the opportunity to share that experience.
As a girls’ school, we are less affected by some of the perennial issues that have often discouraged girls from being active. In particular, there is no sense that girls’ sports are less important than those of boys. And girls in a single-sex school are also much less self-conscious about how doing sport affects their appearance, or of being perceived as ‘sporty’ generally. If all of your friends are fit and active and participating in sport or fitness regularly, then the chances are you will be motivated to do so as well. But we’re not completely immune from wider influences, and we still have to work hard to overcome negativity coming from, for instance, social media. We do this in two ways.
First, we offer a wide variety of activities, not just the traditional girls’ sports (though we are strong in those too). To the traditional mix of lacrosse, hockey and netball we have added – to name but a few –dance, yoga, badminton, mountain biking, fencing, archery, cricket, and basketball. Girls can also train with a personal trainer in our fitness suite, setting their own targets. In their first year with us girls experience our unique ‘Challenge and Adventure’ programme which culminates in a week of activities such as abseiling and caving. We hope we have something to capture everyone’s imagination.
Second, we value participation at all levels and make sure that all achievements are recognised. One example of this is our Tennis Academy, where the emphasis is as much on improving skills as on competitive matches. We also give time in the school week to sport: all St Mary’s girls take PE right through to the Sixth Form – something which is not always the case.
The culture of the school lies at the heart of our success, and our very strong team of PE Staff have been central to this. The school has also demonstrated its commitment through the ‘Vision for Sport’ Development campaign which culminated last year with the opening of our magnificent new sports hall, as well as allowing us to build a state-of-the-art floodlit astroturf pitch, along with new tennis and netball courts.
When she opened our new facilities, TV presenter Clare Balding said: ‘Sport helps you make friends, teaches you how to work as a team, helps you develop resilience, makes you less self-conscious, more confident, boosts physical and mental health and, most of all, it’s fun.’ I couldn’t agree more.
Dr Felicia Kirk, Headmistress