Adaptation and reinvention are two fitting words to describe the education sector throughout the global pandemic. Classes transformed from physical interaction to creative virtual engagement. Age-old practices gave way to digital solutions. When looking at the transformation of school sports, the Newcastillian – Online News approached St Dominics Newcastle, Crawford International North Coast, Ferrum High School and Curro Mount Richmore to learn of these developments.
Director of Sports at St Dominics Newcastle, Raymond van Niekerk begins by stating, school sport is not the same anymore. Especially when looking at tournaments, matches, and the big school get-togethers.
However, he emphasises, “At Curro St Dominics, we are still keeping the spirits of our learners positive. We have recently participated in Virtual Athletics and Swimming gala events, where our learners will be ranked nationally within Curro schools. Our learners will also get recognition for their efforts.”
Moreover, he highlights the school’s sports program is still going strong, while adhering to strict COVID protocols. “In Term 1, we took part in various sports and had a full online coaching program, where learners were trained by school sport coaches and current national sport-players.”
Additionally, various tournaments are being scheduled for St Dominics Newcastle’s learners.
“We don’t want to give away all the surprises, but our school is going to have a Super 8’s hockey league, as well as an indoor hockey league for our learners where fun PHL- Style rules will apply,” declares Van Niekerk.
Laying testament to the successful advancements within school sports, he highlights that the school’s sporting program has not been affected negatively in the least. “In fact, it has enabled us to be more innovative, and I think our learners will benefit from all the new ideas. We are very excited for the 2021 sport season.”
Discussing the timeframes and changes on the field, Head of Sport at Crawford International North Coast, Chantal Bedingfield, states, “The last time we played any form of sports matches was in March 2020, ever since then, sports have not been allowed. At the end of the 3rd term and start of the 4th term, we were finally allowed back on the field, but very different to the norm.”
She says the school’s sports team has introduced soccer skills practice, where they marked 5x5m squares on the field, with 2m between each square. “Each student received their own ball and cones and practised skills in their own blocks. We continued with this training in the first term of this year.” Thankfully with the announcement of Level 1 of the lockdown, Crawford International North Coast is now reigniting their intra-schools matches, forwarding their learners the opportunity to participate in inter-house sports at the end of this term.
Sports Director at Curro Mount Richmore, Shaun Blignaut, explains while he can see sports changing, how it will exactly change is hard to predict.
And when peering past the school field and into sports as a whole, Blignaut states, “We can look at other countries and see how they are beginning to roll sports back out. Most likely, games will be played without fans like on a professional level to start. Then when fans do return, they will most likely require wearing a mask and other social distancing measures. Players on the bench will most likely be six feet apart as well. Sports may opt not to do any handshakes or high fives as well.”
Head of Sport at Ferrum High School, Deon van Rooyen agrees that school sport has changed substantially in 2021 due to the various protocols schools must now follow. “Groups have to be smaller in order to practice. There is a lot more pressure on the coaches and managers of the teams, due to all the advanced planning that must be done.”
Furthermore, due to the said restrictions, learner groups had to come to school on alternative days, forcing coaches to plan practices accordingly.
He says contact with players in bigger groups is also tricky as social distancing must be kept in mind. “Also, the players have to be screened before practices – this increases the administration involved.”
Moreover, sanitising and safety has become a huge priority during the COVID period, which has affected all sporting activities. “I think that players are more responsible when it comes to personal hygiene, because we are so aware of it in our everyday lives currently. Being able to practice normally, before the COVID pandemic, was taken for granted – it is only now that we realise how lucky we were. It is for this reason that we are very grateful to be able to have a slow return to sport. The players also realise this, and it shows in their enthusiasm and commitment.”
But how has the changing environment in school sports impacted highly-talented players and their ability to pursue a career after school in sports? Bedingfield points out, “Fitness and sports skills in all students have been affected. A competitive environment, and especially district and provincial trials, plays a big part in development. It is a shame that especially matric students missed out on the opportunity to attend their various trials last year.”
However, despite this, she enthuses Crawford International North Coast, still produced two Grade 12 students from the Class of 2020, who are now pursuing football scholarships in the USA this year.
Additionally, Van Niekerk says, Curro is an affiliated partner with a scholarship program named ASM. Ambassadors for the program include Ernie Els, Bryan Habana, Enoch Showunmi and many more. “This company ensures our learners are eligible to obtain scholarships to South African or International Universities all over the world. Our learners are given so many opportunities in our school sport program, they have the choice of taking part and being competitive in any sporting code which they choose to take part in. Here at Curro St Dominics, we do not limit our sport players and COVID-19 will not stand in our way.”
Despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic, he states, St Dominics Newcastle will not only ensure everything is done safely, but the school will keep their players on the correct path. “We are going places, and the sky is the limit for our students.”
Blignaut adds, his heart goes out to Curro Mount Richmore’s top sportsmen and sportswomen who want to pursue their passion after school. “With everything that happened during the pandemic, it has halted all sporting and recruiting fronts. By this, our players cant take part in any sort of provincial trials to get recruited by the university or even provincial.”
“The biggest downside for our most promising players is the fact that they do not get any game time at the moment. Being able to play matches and perform under pressure is vital for their growth,” highlights Van Rooyen.
However, he emphasises their dedication towards sport has not changed, as they have been practising conscientiously. “The biggest problem I think for the players currently, is the lack of game time – players need to apply their skills in a certain situation, and the best way to apply their skills is to have game time or opposition in order to test your skills. As the restrictions are lifted and we move back to playing matches, the best players will be able to regain their form quickly. We are hopeful that this will happen very soon.”
To ensure Ferrum high school’s promising sports players remained on point over the past year, Van Rooyen says, “Even during lockdown, we provided learners with training programs that they could follow while at home.”
With these four tops, schools offering insight into how school sports has changed coupled with their worlds’ realities—what are your thoughts?
Share your views with us in the comment section below.