Private schools offer a wide variety of athletic programs for students from pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 and run the gamut from team and individual sports to competitive and recreational ones, as well as clubs and other activities.
At every private school one will see a wide offering of such traditional sports as hockey, basketball, volleyball, and soccer, but also less frequent offerings such as fencing, Nordic skiing, triathlon and curling.
The focus isn’t as much on competitive achievement, though. It’s more about participation, a holistic approach to education and personal development. Education in these schools isn’t just about academics. The objective for the school is to meet the needs of a diverse group of students, working to ensure that sport is aligning with the student rather than trying to make a student fit into a sport model.
“There is a lot of winning here, and we are proud of that, but we are not just a ‘win’ type of place,” says Carla Di Filippo, athletic director of Havergal College in Toronto.
“We like to focus more on the small victories. Maybe it’s a volleyball team that has lost a bunch of games but they win one set. Maybe it’s an individual who has never done an overhand serve, but they do one in a game. We want everyone to experience the small victories that come with sport.”
James McKinnon, principal at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, says “being a naturally gifted athlete can certainly be an asset in one’s development” but participating in athletics is about more than what is given but rather what is developed in a young student.
“Developing and growing in mind, body and spirit is the target in meeting the needs of the whole child to be well-rounded. Being physically active and committed to physical challenges is a significant experience in the development of a strong mind, body and spirit,” McKinnon says.
St. Michael’s offers 20 different sports offerings, 47 competitive teams, eight different intramural sports, with more than 90 per cent of the student body participating.
The personal development that comes with athletics goes beyond physical and mental health. Students learn about teamwork, sportsmanship, self-discipline, problem-solving, goal-setting and communication.
One of the more important benefits is resiliency. Athletics is one of the best ways to practise dealing with failure, say those who run athletic programs at private schools.
Heather Henricks, vice-principal of learning, research and innovation at St. Clement’s School in Toronto, says professional baseball players have successful at-bats only around one-third of the time, professional tennis players make dozens of unforced errors in a match and successful NBAers miss three-points shots 60 per cent of the time.
“It is impossible to avoid frequent failure, and so the key to success in athletics is to learn to recover from it quickly,” she says.
“Athletes, whether at the elementary school or professional level, have to move on to the next play and cannot afford to dwell on each mistake or small failure.”
“Everybody fails, and the key to success is how quickly you can move on from it. This lesson is transferrable to many different areas of life,” Henricks says. Seventy-five per cent of St. Clement’s School students are on at least one sports team.
Vice-principal Chris Russell and physical education teacher Jill Haigh at The Mabin School in Toronto say including parents in the children’s athletic activities is important. With events such as Mabin’s track and field day at the end of the year or the Terry Fox Run, students see their own parents participating and getting involved as well.
Haigh says Mabin’s focus is to not have kids specializing in a sport too early. “I want every student here to feel like they are an athlete,” she says. The Mabin School (JK to Grade 6) gears its programs toward the different age groups of their students, from junior Kindergarten to Grade 6. Younger kids focus on skill-building basics while older children have wide variety of sports teams to choose from.
“So often with kids, so early, we tell them they are not an athlete, they are not good enough to be one,” Haigh says. “We want every student to be a musician, an athlete, an artist – everything they can be.”
Sherri Field, director of athletics at Kingsway College School in Toronto, says their school’s programs focus on the “four doors of learning” – academics, athletics, arts and citizenship. Kingsway students are even evaluated on their report cards in physical education for some of the skills that come out of athletics, such as leadership, persistence, self-control, collaboration and organization.
Troy Hammond, director of university counselling and student services at Bayview Glen School in Toronto, points to the connection between athletics and academic achievement.
“By engaging in athletic pursuits, students are likely to be refreshed, clear-headed and prepared for academic tasks,” he says. “It makes them better equipped to handle stressors in and out of the classroom.”
Holy Trinity School in Richmond Hill, Ont., makes athletics a huge priority. The school offers 50 teams and clubs, competitive levels in a wide variety of sports from Grade 4 to Grade 12, in three gymnasiums, three outdoor fields, four tennis courts and one fitness facility. Student participation in sports and clubs is mandatory.
“As educators, we know that one size does not fit all, so we create intentional opportunities for students for whom competitive sports may not be ‘their thing’,” says Melanie van de Water, Holy Trinity’s dean of students.
Students learn best when physical activity is part of their day, she says.
“Some of our highest-achieving graduates are students who have consistently played sports and engaged themselves in many clubs and school organizations,” van de Water says. “After a long school day, students need a release and are often better served when tackling homework and assignments after a break from academics that includes high-intensity exercise and camaraderie.”
Still, it’s important to point out that merely participating in a sport doesn’t guarantee positive outcomes. While being mindful to create positive experiences, schools will bring in qualified coaches from the outside if need be, in part to ensure teachers who are also coaching have external support if there are gaps in knowledge and skills.
“We want the best people working with the kids,” says Sheila Allen, director of athletics for Junior School and Middle School at The Bishop Strachan School in Toronto. “There is a connection if the teachers are coaching, since they have that connection with the kids in class as well.”
Our Kids tip: Find the right athletics program
“The point of intercollegiate sports is lost on kids who never make the cut. If your child wants a prominent role playing a range of competitive sports, look for schools where they can make a range of competitive teams. The more elite the program, the more elite the athletes.”
— OurKids.net, Canada’s Private School Guide
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.