The Power of Dreams

Phil Mutlow

Deputy Head (Co-Curricular) & Director of Sport Plymouth College

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With the Paris Olympics on the horizon the thoughts of many enthusiasts will be turning to an action packed summer of sport. Whilst many of us may never be quite good enough to grace the hallowed turf at Wembley, take to the field at Lee Valley, showcase our skills on the courts at Wimbledon or experience the thrill of walking out to bat at Lords, schools across the country will be full of pride when watching their alumni do their thing on the world stage. Plymouth College – in the sleepy South West of England – is no different.

Despite being a school with a total pupil population of around 500 from 3-18, the College has been a consistent production line for sporting talent over the years. Since the turn of the century, 200 pupils and alumni have represented their nations, including household names in English sport, Tom Daley, Laura Stephens, Henry Slade and Ben Proud. 

Why am I writing this in a HMC blog you may ask? Perhaps I am seeking to promote our school as the only place where sporting success has ever been achieved? Far from it, our sector has an enviable record of sporting success across a vast range of member schools. These successes are remarkable and rightly fill the community with pride, but it is the impact these high-performing individuals have on those around them – and the broader culture of the pupil body – which captivates me. The achievements of these individuals help to promote a culture of  aspiration and instil a belief that anything is possible for those sitting in the same classrooms, as long as they are willing to dream.

A famous Greek proverb highlights one measure of the growth of society as being when one generation ‘…plants trees in whose shade they will never sit,’. This idea of sowing seeds which will grow long after you have moved on is one which schools are uniquely placed to harness. As teachers we are, for a short time, custodians in our own area of responsibility, but alumni networks and the culture they foster during their time in our schools will live on long beyond our departure. This is certainly evident at Plymouth College, where international success for any nation is recognised on our International Sporting Honours Board and where, to quote ISI, ‘…peers and alumni inspire pupils to emulate their distinctive achievements in a wide range of areas.’. Our job is to help pupils dream and to show them pathways to success which they may never have considered themselves, or may never have had the confidence to explore.  

This is supported by visible and clear role models among the staff,  many of whom are, or have been, high-performing athletes themselves, as well as the alumni community. There are opportunities to meet, speak to, and learn from those who have preceded us and found success both during their time at Plymouth College and afterwards.

Sport is, by no means, the only path to achieving ambition, but I would urge everyone reading this to ensure that they harness the successes in their own schools, and amongst their own alumni, to keep raising the ceiling of aspiration for everyone in their community. As Plymouth College tunes in for a captivating summer of sport, I will certainly be watching the endeavours of many of those 200 OPMs with great interest and a good deal of pride, knowing that each of them has contributed to inspiring the current generation of pupils to believe that anything is possible.

My advice? Nurture ambition wherever it emerges, dream big, because maybe, just maybe,  the next global superstar is sitting in your classroom right now!


12 June 2024