Mary Ann Dove in conversation with Grant Jansen, former Head of Sport at St. Peter’s Boys School, Johannesburg, South Africa.
MD: What was the greatest challenge you faced as head of sport at a primary school?
JG: As a teacher the natural thing for you to do is to help others and play a part in their development. Teachers not only play a role in the development of the child, but in many ways also assist in the development of parents. What becomes very challenging, is trying to satisfy the needs of a wide range of children as well as their parents, and the most important challenge is to drive home the school’s philosophy and get the necessary buy in from those concerned. Whilst one aims to stick to a philosophy, you at the same time need to cater for the diverse individuals you interact with and when one throws emotional concerns and backlashes into the equation it makes for quite a challenge. One has to view these issues as a process and as long as those you interact with; children, parents and staff – understand that your intentions are aimed at benefitting them it does make things a lot easier. But, it takes years of commitment and heartache for things to come together and still one negative incident can undo all your efforts. Hence the greatest challenge would be to rise again no matter how a situation may have disappointed you. However, whilst this is a challenge it is the chief contributor to teacher satisfaction as you overcome each challenge and derive so much benefit just from seeing others achieve.
MD: How did you deal with this challenge to ensure a win/win result for all stakeholders?
JG: As mentioned above, communicating your philosophy to all stakeholders is critical and also being prepared to listen to those around you and accept advice and criticism when it is due.
MD: How did you balance the needs of the children and the parents?
My philosophy for prep school sport is one that caters for mass participation with a strong team sport focus, coupled with a holistic sports programme enabling children to experience a wide-range of activities. Through this experience children are able to develop the necessary skills that give them a basis for most sport and recreation activities they would encounter in a lifetime, but also very important are the social and interpersonal skills which they would acquire, putting them in good stead when required in life whether it be in business or socially.
MD: And the ethos of the school with respect to sport?
Establishing a philosophy of play for enjoyment and fun is often very difficult particularly since we are bombarded by the win at all cost mentality on television and other forms of media. In addition the culture experienced by parents in business, is one that supports a win at all costs approach – this approach can be very destructive and demoralizing as just as there are winners there have to be losers. I tried hard to instil in children and coaching staff a sense of having to focus on the processes in a particular sport and that one should measure success on the amount of effort and fun derived from the sporting experience rather than the result – it is one that seems perfect in theory but not always so easy to convince people in reality – nevertheless to drive home this point one cannot deviate from your philosophy.
MD: What advice do you have for parents of “talented” sports children?
· Understand the fine line between being supportive and pushy and allow your child to enjoy his/her experience
· Allow your child to follow the necessary steps to further development. Some parents of talented children feel that their kids should bypass stages when they appear strong in other aspects
· Talented children can at some point battle socially with their peers as they feel and are made to feel “a cut above the rest” – resulting in them being isolated from others
· Over-training and over-coaching can be to the detriment of the child as parents are often anxious and want to “seize the moment” for the child – listen to their little bodies and provide balance in their lives
· Make sure your child understands that good sportsmanship is as important in sport and goes hand-in-hand with being a good player
Next time: Motivating kids that are disinterested in exercise and sport