Over the years, Newington has forged many excellent partnerships with sporting organisations. They have proven to be beneficial in so many ways. However, my concern is that there is a growing specialisation of all sports at younger and younger ages. Many sports feel the need for “talent identification” and the securement of pathways for their sport. Some feel the need to run 12 month programs. Paid development officers, of course, have a vested interest in such pursuits.
Whispers of greatness and potential elite level achievements are made to boys and parents. The harsh reality is that most boys do not make the elite level, many get burnt out early and many suffer from injuries sustained by excessive amounts of physical and/or contact activity at a young age. Some fall for the traps on taking short cuts to achieve certain “body shapes”. This is all happening as boys are maturing physically at different rates and going through massive hormonal changes.
We hear of the success stories of early talent identification and development, but we never hear of the majority of young athletes who are spat out from the processes.
Three other important factors that boys should consider are:
a) The need for a good education to gain as many options as possible post Year 12. The foundations are built across the junior years. The smart elite sportsman will always ensure he has alternative pathways and doesn’t rely primarily on the promise of a sporting career.
b) Elite sportsmen are drawn to the attractive money on offer in many sports and hence are staying on in the sport much longer than in past years. Therefore, there is no rush for the vast majority of talented sporting boys to be “noticed”.
c) Over specialisation too early can lead to boredom and high drop-out rates from sport in the late teens and early adulthood years.
The Head of Sport at Newington, Mr James Godfrey, coordinates a Talented Athlete Sports Program (TASP). As part of TASP, guest speakers are invited to present, there is a coordinated approach in managing a boy’s programs and time demands and support is provided. Individual programs are developed and a balanced approach is encouraged so boys can reach their full potential – not only in sport, but also in the academic, well-being and social aspects of their lives.
Our Newington staff continue to improve our sporting programs with a strong focus on culture and processes. Sport is such a valuable activity for our boys – fitness, teamwork, skills, enjoyment, resilience, growth, respect, hard work and unity (College spirit). As educators we seek to strike the right balance for sport. The 12 months specialisation in one sport is usually not supportive of this goal for 99% of our boys. We will continue working with our external sporting partners to achieve what is best for the vast majority of our boys. Sporting programs should contribute to the well-being of each and every boy.
Dr David Mulford