From swimming galas to hockey matches, our sports-mad Director of Sport explains how his subject instils self-belief and team spirit
On the rare occasions that Mr Tom Davies isn’t busy teaching hockey drills or cricket skills, you’re likely to find him immersed in a game of golf (he has an impressive handicap of seven) or cheering on Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm Stadium. In fact, it’s exceedingly rare to find Cricklade’s Director of Sport without a ball in his sights.
“Sport’s definitely in my blood,” he laughs. “My father was a county cricketer, my uncle captained Somerset and my brother is a professional golfer. My mum is a PE teacher too! I started kicking a rugby ball pretty much as soon as I could walk and played cricket with Gloucestershire for six years. It’s always been a huge part of my life, and I love instilling that passion in our pupils.”
And Mr Davies’ enthusiasm certainly translates into results. For the last two years Cricklade Manor Prep has been rated amongst the top prep schools for cricket, with 11 pupils recently playing at county level. Our rugby players also enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime training session at Twickenham Stadium, as part of a national award recognising 14 schools that go above and beyond to nurture their young players. To top it all off, one of our star swimmers came fifth in the national finals at London’s Olympic pool, in an event involving some 4,000 competitors.
Passion and performance
But here at Cricklade Manor Prep, sport isn’t just about performance and prizes. It’s about fostering self-esteem, leadership skills and – most importantly – team spirit.
“Whether we’re playing netball, rugby or badminton, all sport has a wider impact on children that’s crucial to their development,” says Mr Davies. “It teaches them to communicate effectively, think strategically and outwit an opponent. It also gives them the confidence to think independently and adapt to change. In the wider world, these are all invaluable life lessons that will help them stand out from the crowd.
“Confidence-building is huge here,” he adds. “From Year Three, every child gets their chance to play at our weekly fixtures, whatever their ability. Even if they’re not naturally inclined to take up sport, it teaches them that they can still participate and have a positive impact in the team. Of course, we do set high standards because we want each child to achieve their full potential, but we make sure the pupils know that whenever anyone makes a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. The most important thing is to bond as a team and support one another. When someone sees you’re feeling down and puts their arm around you, it picks you up again.”
And while nobody likes to lose, Mr Davies is quick to point out that it teaches resilience.
“You learn from losing too, the frustrations are all part of it,” he laughs. “Some of our teams were unbeaten last year, and we threw a party at the end of the season to celebrate their success. But this year their results have been more mixed, because they’re playing a wider pool of schools. It’s a challenge, but it’s taught them the value of working hard for one another and uniting as a team. You might have an off day, but you bounce back and you go again.”
High quality training
So, which lesson is guaranteed to produce the biggest smiles amongst the children?
“If it pours down with rain on a match day and the fixture is cancelled, we deck out the sports hall with loads of exciting equipment,” smiles Mr Davies. “We set up all the reaction catchers, which are essentially nets that fire the ball back when the children throw it. We also have a ramp, which throws the ball back in multiple directions, and we’ll bring out the big crash mats too, so we can practise diving catches. Then we break down into small groups of 10 for a high quality, two-hour training session. It creates such a buzz amongst the pupils, and it turns a negative situation into something very positive.
“We’re very lucky to have incredible facilities here at Cricklade. In addition to our sports hall, which is kitted out with gymnastics equipment and four cricket lanes, we have a great AstroTurf, two netball courts and acres of playing fields. Then there’s our 25M swimming pool, where we host galas, inter-house competitions and regular lessons. During the summer months, the pupils eagerly turn up at 7:30am every Friday for the swim squad. It’s optional, but the early start rarely puts anyone off.”
An early introduction
Mr Davies is a firm believer in starting sport early in life. At Cricklade Manor our nursery children enjoy athletics, gymnastics and ball skills, while competitive hockey, rugby, netball and cricket matches start in Year Three.
“Here, our pupils have the opportunity to train every day and play sport two or three times a week, which is just fantastic,” he says. “You don’t get that quality or exposure in the state sector – it’s a breeding ground for talent and the perfect place to ignite a passion for sport. We also run an individualised learning programme for our elite athletes, who come to me on a Tuesday and Thursday for extra training. We learn about team ethics and leadership, and we do fitness tests to prepare them for competitions and secondary school scholarships.”
Invaluable life skills
In today’s technology-focused society, where children are increasingly absorbed by screens, Mr Davies believes that sport is also critical for emotional development.
“Exercise releases endorphins, and it allows children to release any pent-up frustration,” he explains. “Whether you’re bowling a ball, swinging a racket or swimming lengths, it enables you to let go of those emotions. It also teaches the children that you have to be active to be healthy, plus it encourages them to communicate and interact. As everything becomes more computer-based, this is all so important. “But for me, the biggest thing about sport is that it builds tremendous confidence. Our pupils learn to lead, make decisions and have courage in their own convictions, and those talents then bleed into other areas of their lives. Self-belief is such a fundamental skill. If you’ve mastered that, you’ll do ok!”
You can meet Tom and the rest of the teaching team by arranging a visit. Simply contact Penny Kelly to book your visit today on 01793 750275.