‘Team sport is as important as any academic qualification’

The Telegraph, 03.07.15, following Laura Basett's World Cup own-goal, HMC member, Lucy Pearson, head of Cheadle Hulme School suggests that all young people could benefit from team sports.

I imagine that for what felt like an interminable few seconds, Laura Bassett could not have felt worse. Bent over, hands on knees, she cut a lonely figure staring at the ground, chest heaving.

In the moments immediately following the own-goal, which saw the Lionesses’ dream of a World Cup Final end, I doubt she was worried about what a million-plus fans and spectators were thinking. It would have been the impact of the error on her team mates that would have thundered around her head and thumped in her chest. At such moments, it is loneliness that is the killer.

Mistakes happen, and one of the precious lessons learned through team sports, particularly by young people in school, is how to manage those moments as an individual and as part of a team.

For the remainder of the game, I imagine Bassett was in something of a daze. But as the final whistle blew the consequences of the own goal inevitably reduced her to tears. And this is where the measure of a team can be seen.

Team sport is about managing yourself and helping others to manage; when individuals get this right, then the potential of that team grows exponentially.

Throughout this World Cup, Mark Sampson, the Lionesses’ coach, has talked passionately about the team ‘from 1-23’ and there can be little doubt that during his tenure he has built just that - a team.

We see something special, something noble which transcends expectation and reminds us that at its best, sport is as much about nobility of spirit as it is about winning. 

Lucy Pearson, head, Cheadle Hulme School

In all that they have said and done, the players have talked about one another; there have been stories of personal challenge, but on every occasion the interviewee has gone on to talk about the support network and friendship she has found through her team-mates. And it has been this sense of playing for and with one another that has lit up the Lionesses’ performances and inspired such enthusiastic support back home.

This is the beauty of team sport: it can inspire greatness, and I don’t mean creating legends of the game – I mean moments of magnanimity which resonate. We see something special, something noble which transcends expectation and reminds us that at its best, sport is as much about nobility of spirit as it is about winning.

As the losing captain in the recent one day series between England and New Zealand, you might expect Brendon McCullum to have little to say to his opposite number. But such is McCullum’s character and understanding of the spirit of cricket that he invited Morgan and the England Team to join the Kiwis in their changing room to have a drink to celebrate the series.

McCullum’s conduct throughout was nothing short of exemplary – he was competitive, professional, good-humoured and respectful - qualities which are too rarely seen in several sports at the top level, much to their shame.

As his losing England team-mates returned to the dressing room and said nothing to him following his sending off in the 1998 World Cup match against Argentina, David Beckham felt "lonely, isolated and afraid". What he needed was some comfort and it came in the surprising form of Tony Adams, the Arsenal Defender.

"[He] put his arm around me. It was a strong embrace. I could feel that he meant it; that he could see how much I was suffering; that he wanted to take away some of the pain. 'Look son, everyone makes mistakes,' he said. 'Don’t let it get you down. You are going to come back stronger and better.'”

We must teach them to understand that we all make mistakes and that we are at our strongest when we show empathy and compassion to those around us.

Lucy Pearson, head, Cheadle Hulme School

Team sport, team activities and team challenges are as important to young people’s development and future success as any academic qualification. We have to help young people learn what it means to be part of a community and what it means to contribute positively to that community.

We must teach them to understand that we all make mistakes and that we are at our strongest when we show empathy and compassion to those around us. Equally we must teach them the resolve to come back from mistakes and the ability to learn from them so that we are stronger and better.

I doubt Bassett walked into a silent changing room. And she did not deserve to. Yes, she cut an inconsolable figure, but her team mates were with her nonetheless. They ended their World Cup as they had started it – as a team, managing themselves and helping one another to manage.

I have every faith that, with a little help from her team mates, she will come back stronger and better – I certainly hope so.

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