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UAE schools channel sporting values

The inclusion of sports on a larger scale into the school calendar is a terrific way for children to imbibe life skills, say parents and teachers

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Billy Chatterjee, 8, represents his school in swimming, rugby and football
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While few parents will consider academic success unimportant, it appears many schools are now increasingly focusing on integrating a culture of sport into their ethos and curriculum, with the aim of producing confident, well-rounded individuals robustly prepared for life in the real world. So, do schools and parents in the UAE agree that sport is a key element of this preparation? It’s a resounding ‘yes’. 

Mike Wilson, incoming head at Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, says there are myriad reasons why sports should be an integral part of a school’s culture and ethos, starting with learning all-important life skills. “Sure, schools need to get results, but the reality is GCSEs and A-levels are simply a measure of a student’s ability to remember,” he says. “At Cranleigh, our attitude is that we don’t care where a child learns the life skills they need — in a classroom, on a stage, on a playing field — as long as they learn them.” 

“Put a child in a classroom and give them lesson after lesson in maths, English, science and so on, and they’ll hardly learn a thing. Put them on a sports field and run them ragged, and they won’t learn a thing. Mix it up, give them variation, and they’ll learn much more.  ”
-Mike Wilson, Incoming Head, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi
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Such life skills include operating as part of a team, problem-solving, thinking outside the box, learning to deal with pressure, getting out of a sticky situation and coming out on top. “Wherever they’re learned, these skills are entirely transferable to everyday life and totally valuable,” Wilson says. 

Agrees British expat Emma Rymer, 46, who deliberately looked for a school with a strong sporting ethos to give her eight-year-old son Billy Chatterjee’s boundless energy an outlet and channel it in a positive way, as well as give him an all-round 

“To us, sport teaches children important life skills including teamwork, team spirit, discipline and an understanding of healthy competition,” says Rymer. “Young children can often be all about themselves, especially if they’re an only child as Billy is, and it was important for us he learned to be a part of a team and understand when he’s playing in a team, his role is helping his team and he is not the team itself.”

Rymer says having sport as an integral part of Billy’s education has had a positive effect on the child. “He’s had the opportunity to be involved in a number of different sports and now represents the school at swimming, rugby and football, and outside school his involvement in sports has given him great bonding opportunities with his father.” 

Wilson stresses learning teamwork is one of the most important benefits of a robust sporting culture in education. “As a team, it’s vital to learn how to collectively experience and appreciate the highs, but still manage the lows.” 

Max Lohe, Director of Sport at Dubai English Speaking School (DESS), agrees that sport should be an integral element of a child’s physical and developmental education. “A big part of our sporting philosophy is pride, enjoyment, respect and sportsmanship,” he explains. “These are character traits we hope our children will take with them into secondary school and throughout their whole career.”

Choueifat vs Mawakeb Students from the International School of Choueifat take on Al Mawakeb

This concept extends beyond school to events and activities that involve other establishments, including both local and international tournaments and events. “Days out such as to sports tournaments can make a huge difference to confidence and morale,” Wilson says. 

Lohe agrees. “At DESS we want the children to have the opportunity to play sport not only within the school but for external clubs and academies within Dubai,” he explains. “The opportunities to socialise with children from other schools and cultures are a big positive of sport; as a school we also take part in the British Schools in the Middle East (BSME) Games, and this gives our children the opportunity to compete against and meet children from all across the region. The pride and satisfaction they gained from being recently crowned BSME Games Champions have created memories that will stay with them forever.” 

Wilson also stresses the importance of the health benefits of regular exercise in children. “Of course, sports gets children away from television and technology and gets them out and keeps them active,” he says. “It’s massively important to encourage sports from a health perspective, as it’s so much better to prevent health problems from occurring rather than having to stop them once they start.” 

Lohe says sport naturally impacts the holistic development and wellbeing of a child, no matter the age. “There are numerous other benefits of sport, including building self-esteem, creating positive energy, improving focus and also the health benefits of regular exercise which relate to children of all ages,” he says. 

Wilson says one final benefit of incorporating a culture of sport into a school’s ethos is that it provides for a rounded, balanced education, which helps children learn far more effectively. “Variation helps development of all skills,” he explains. “Put a child in a classroom and give them lesson after lesson in maths, English, science and so on, and they’ll hardly learn a thing. Put them on a sports field and run them ragged, and they won’t learn a thing. Mix it up, give them variation, and they’ll learn much more.”