Just a game? What kids can learn from sport

By Greg Whitby, 26 July 2020
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Community sport for kids starts up again in NSW at the beginning of July. Sporty types have been busting to get back to it but what about kids who get picked last every time? Of course, it’s essential schools do sport and fitness in a way that’s fair and inclusive. It might be courting controversy, but I think playing a sport is a great learning experience for everyone.

Some of the benefits of sports include opportunities to improve a range of skills. I’m sure you’re thinking of gross motor and ball skills, but don’t forget that there are also important social skills to be learnt here. This includes celebrating your achievements and the successes of others, managing disappointment and teamwork. You even tend to get a bit of exercise!

In education, we love talking about ‘gamification’: using a game-like approach to learning and teaching. Ever come across the idea of play-based learning? We hear a lot of this in early childhood education but never enough for the big kids. Sport is one way that we keep the playfulness going in primary school and beyond. After all, have you ever really been to school if you haven’t been involved in an epic handball tournament?

The reality is that the only reason that some kids turn up to school is for sports. That’s why programs that ban students who wag school from playing organised sports are so short-sighted. This fails to recognise that sport is learning, and an important lifeline for vulnerable children and young people. I also reckon that we need to get better at recognising the kids who struggle at sport but keep trying: after all, in learning, we’re all about rewarding effort to promote growth.

Participating in sports is an essential social activity and not just for the kids as any soccer mum or dad can tell you. It provides an introduction to people outside of our usual circles, and in many cases, lifelong friendships. Coaches are really significant adults in young people’s lives too. I always find it inspirational to chat with the local heroes who make junior sports possible: it’s all about the kids.

Sport is so much a part of our identity. If you doubt it, remember when Cathy Freeman won the 400m at the Sydney Olympics. It teaches us about difference, courage, strength, grace and perspective. It can be culture and pride of place; for many it gives purpose and creates community. So whether you’re a champ or a journeyman, an allrounder or the student who always forgets his or her gym bag accidentally on purpose: sign up, it’s all fun and games!

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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