Competition for children – right or wrong?

Gareth Southgate has recently been appointed as the FA’s elite performance director and has raised serious concerns relating to coaching children and specifically the overly competitive environments in which they play. This is not news as such as many senior Premier League managers, such as Messrs Wenger, Mourinho and Ferguson have all questioned the English culture of early competitiveness and compared this to more progressive and developmental approaches used with young players on the continent.

It’s going to sound as if the record is stuck now, as I’ve raised this issue before, but how can so much opinion be completely out of sync with latest curricular trends that propose a PE curriculum that increases emphasis on competition? I’m afraid to say that such is the influence of personal perspectives of politicians on our subject area of PE that we stand on the precipice of an era that has the potential to be even more damaging than John Major’s Raising the Game. The movement movement is under threat- if the emphasis is on competition the time spent on quality is often diminished; children are turned off by this lack of time to master movement before being asked to apply it. The proficiency barrier, whereby children can’t participate in certain activities due to their lack of basic fundamental movement skills, is highlighted further when children are asked to participate in static, sterile meaningless sports within adult-based competitive environments.

Whilst competition can be a useful environment in which to develop children with a self-referenced framework it worries me that an over reliance on such environments will stifle creativity and prevent a wider range of children participating. If the outcome is to improve performance, there is very little evidence to suggest that more competition will achieve this. Indeed, there is more evidence to suggest that strong participation routes will lead to more effective and refined performers entering the higher echelons of talent development pathways.

Returning to the starting point, isn’t it strange that the all-encompassing and extremely powerful national sport of football is so set against what is happening in schools PE – the tables seem to be turning.

Dr David Morley is Head of Education at ESP, a consultant for a range of national organisations and NGBs of sport, and holds Visiting Fellow positions at both Northumbria and Leeds Metropolitan Universities.