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Sport at Aiglon: “It’s about every student finding something they can fall in love with”

Sport at Aiglon: “It’s about every student finding something they can fall in love with”
Sport at Aiglon: “It’s about every student finding something they can fall in love with”

The numerous health benefits — both physical and mental — that taking part in sports and regular physical activities can bring to young people are well documented

But all too often, by the time children get past junior school, they find themselves falling out of love with sporting activities they once enjoyed doing. For example, research shows that participation rates in organised sport drastically decline as young people enter adolescence. That trend is even more pronounced for young girls. Research from Sport England found that over 40% of teenage girls who once considered themselves sporty were disengaging from sport.

Not so at Aiglon College. For example, in this past year, 55% of Year 12 and Year 13 students have represented the school in sporting competitions. 

If Aiglonians are embracing sport — and reaping the many benefits this brings — it is in large part down to the school’s approach to the subject. “In some school systems, like in the independent sector in the UK, there is often an element of compulsion,” Mr James Dyson, Aiglon’s Head of PE & Sport explains. “It’s Saturday, you have to play a sport, because that’s what we’ve always done.” 

Instead of making students feel like they are being coerced into doing something they might not otherwise choose, Mr Dyson and his team have taken another approach. “I think the broader purpose of sport that we try to have within our programme is to provide students with an opportunity to find an activity that they will take with them for the rest of their lives,” he says. 

Mr Dyson and the sports department have achieved this by focusing on a few things. The most transformative has been to ensure there is a real range of activities on offer.

This past academic year, students were able to choose from 15 different sports. For example, a student might choose football and take part in the school’s Manchester City Football School programme. “That’s open to everybody, whether you’re the school’s best footballer or you’re kicking a ball for the first time,” Mr Dyson says. Or they might opt for a more unconventional offering, like Ultimate Frisbee. And of course, thanks to Aiglon’s unique position, students also have the opportunity to learn a range of mountain-based sports, like skiing, handi-concept, snowboarding, mountain bike riding and climbing. “Ultimately, it’s about every student finding something they can fall in love with,” Mr Dyson explains.

By offering a range of options that students are themselves able to select from, Mr Dyson and his department are creating a culture where sport is no longer seen as something that students have to do, but is instead something that they actually want to do. “If you speak to most adults and ask what they thought of PE as a child, they’ll tell you they hated having to do this sport that they had no interest in,” Mr Dyson says. “The commitment, effort and uptake we’ve had from students this year has a lot to do with how much more they’ve been able to self-select what sporting activities they want to do.”

The Sports department has also focused on creating a space where sports can be fun and enjoyable. “If you make it fun and engaging, then you get buy-in, and when you get buy-in, then performance increases.” The facilities — such as the Tony Jashanmal Sports Centre, a state-of-the-art multi-purpose indoor sports space with a climbing wall and a high-tech expedition room — have certainly helped create this type of environment. The fitness suite is being renovated and will be accessible as of August 2024. Students also have access to two astroturf football pitches, and the Aiglon Basecamp, which has a communal area for ski training briefing sessions, maintenance and equipment storage.

The figures and results testify to the success of the approach. For example, the number of sporting fixtures played this past year was 312, up from 162 the previous year. Across the entire school, 268 students represented Aiglon this past academic year, compared to 130 the year before. There are over 440 students at the school. The girls basketball squads finished the season with an impressive 87% win ratio and a record of 14 wins. One student won the Migros Grand Prix, Switzerland’s biggest skiing competition for young people. “They’re enjoying it, so they’re investing in it more,” says Mr Dyson. 

Perhaps more importantly, though, they’re having more opportunities to absorb some of the important and transferable life lessons that come from playing sports. “We know that taking part in sporting activities is great for developing things like teamwork and perseverance, and for instilling good habits around keeping fit,” says Stephen Cook, Aiglon’s Director of Character Education. “So once they find a sport that they’re good at, and they enjoy, they’re going to take those lessons with them throughout their lives.”



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