I was recently asked to speak on a podcast. Among the range of discussion points, school sport in my childhood arose. When I was in primary school in Rockhampton, Central Queensland, in the 1970s (and many people will remember this) classes would cease at lunch time on Friday and everyone would play interschool sport in the afternoon. Part of your education was playing sport, but more importantly learning the invaluable lessons that can only come from being a member of a team. One of the things that has always stayed prominent in my memory was how people changed on Friday arvo. Boys that were quiet in class, surprised the hell out of you on the field and earned your respect and friendship. Other boys who were rowdy and confident during the week learned humility by the time the bell went. As a group of young boys, we learnt how to connect, how to communicate and forged stronger friendships as a result of being in a team. The exercise also contributed to our general physical health and development; however, the biggest benefit was that secured feeling of belonging and acceptance through contribution. It felt great to part of a team in your school colours.
Fast forward 40 years and primary school is a totally different environment. Team sports are generally taboo because of the fear of litigation. There is also the theory that every minute of every day is needed to pump new learning techniques (the results of the nationwide NAPLAN test last week were a national disaster) into our next generation. If you’re lucky, your school still has a PE teacher to run a fortnightly motor skill lesson. If not, a private company is contracted to run a government approved movement programme to help keep “active”. The physical activity is not the issue, it’s mental health. As a society, we have never had more platforms to communicate on; yet we have never been lonelier. Our kids find it hard to build friendships – real relationships. The mental health issues in young children and teenagers are spiralling. Move into the adult world and our workforces struggle to connect. I’m speaking from experience. When you help people, who are in the same building, appreciate and understand each other to the point that they want to work together (not just sit in the same office and send emails), they automatically begin to bond and feel a responsibility to each other. It gives them a sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Just like our kids, isolation and the feeling of loneliness is a massive problem in the corporate world, which effects a persons’ health and performance levels.
This isn’t meant to be a rant or blaming exercise. We can solve a lot of problems in our society by learning to communicate and connect better in a team environment. One of the obvious places to start is in our primary schools. It doesn’t just have to be sporting teams. Encourage bands and debating teams, etc. But what about many of our children who are interested in sport. Surely as a country we have the ability and foresight to address the reasons why team sport is not part of our curriculum. We are spending millions of dollars on programs to assist with learning and mental issues. Being part of a sporting team can help our kids communicate and develop both physically and mentally. It can build character and teach them resilience. Hell, it might even improve those NAPLAN tests. Sometimes the best solutions come from past experiences and they are right under your nose.