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Living on the

sporting edge


by Laura Taylor


Maintaining a competitive sports programme is hard enough at the best of times.


But what happens when your school is located in the outer regions of the country or in the middle of nowhere?


How difficult is it? What are the logistics involved? What is the added cost? How much of a restriction is your geography? What can be done to help you?


Dover College lies on the south eastern point of England so delicate planning is key when it comes to organizing a competitive and comprehensive sports programme.


Tom Butt, director of sport, maintains: “Thinking differently about fixture lists is the key. We are playing many more state schools than previously, and across all sports, to ensure we have the right amount of competition.


“Geography is a restriction being on the coast but again creative solutions can be found. It’s as quick for us to get to Belgium as it is to Berkshire and so we do much more on the continent than before, as well as making contact with organisations such as NECIS (Northwest European Council of International Schools) who have included us as guests in end of season tournaments.


“Tournament-wise, if there are not the tournaments available we have organised them ourselves at both prep and senior level, inviting maintained and independent schools to take part, across football, rugby and cross-country.


“Cost is a factor but being flexible concerning weekends and midweek fixtures, and cultivating excellent relationships with the schools we play, mitigates this hugely.”


In the far north west of the country, Cumbria’s Sedbergh School lies in the shadow of the stunning Howgill Fells in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park.  


While other schools close their doors due to too much snow in winter, their 560 pupils are encouraged to be active – so much so that they will still be cross country running, knee-deep through the fells.


Renowned for its excellent sports provision, traditional sports are supplemented by extra-curricular activities such as sailing, fell running, climbing and canoeing.


But the remoteness of their location in the South Lakes definitely makes organising sports fixtures very difficult in the South Lakes, according to director of sport Stuart Oliver.  


He explained: “Sedbergh made the decision in the early 2000s to challenge themselves and play the very best schools in the UK.  


“In sports like rugby, cricket, shooting, fives, equestrian, hockey and netball, we travel the length of the country for fixtures. We play in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and travel abroad each year with different sports.  


“Our pupils think nothing about jumping on a bus each Saturday and travelling three hours each way. We also stay in hotels on Friday evenings and our 1st XV rugby game of the year is against Whitgift all the way near London.


“Of course this comes at a financial cost and last year our transport budget for sport was high but my headmaster and bursar support fully our ambition and culture to test ourselves and push ourselves out of our comfort zone.  


“The childhood experiences these lucky children have at Sedbergh for five years is immeasurable and they learn incredible life skills such as resilience, teamwork and leadership.”


Living in Cornwall could be described by many as the perfect setting – but not necessarily when you are trying to run a competitive sports programme.


Truro School prides itself on both providing sport for all while entering as many competition across as many sports as possible.


For director of sport Dan Sanderson the problem is transport, transport and drivers and transport, drivers and leaving times.


He explains: “While we are blessed with our location. We are in Cornwall. Who wouldn't want to be here? So these are the biggest barriers to our school for our sporting fixtures.


“It is becoming increasingly hard to stay connected to other schools. All schools are facing time constraints and long gone are the days where you could easily take pupils out all day for sporting fixtures.


“The landscape has changed and the sporting calendar has been slow to catch up. We monitor how many lessons our kids miss due to sporting fixtures and, where possible, we try to fixture them in games lessons and during our Wednesday afternoon activities slot.”


Not uncommon are situations where teams have to take a five-hour round trip to play 50 minutes of rugby.


“Unsurprisingly, this isn't hugely popular with the pupils,” Dan says. “I really think that triangular tournaments are the way to go.


“When we do have time for a fixture, this is where the scramble for minibuses start. More pressingly, is the staff to drive them.


“Due to your date of birth, you could become an invaluable resource, a qualified D1 driver. The amount of fixtures that have been cancelled because of the lack of a D1 driver is increasing.


“New staff that are recruited to the school tend to be too young to have the D1 licence. But it costs thousands of pounds to train and of course everyone who takes the test isn't guaranteed to pass.


“We would love to work with other schools who face a similar situation to discuss tactics going forward.”