Developing a culture where being bright is cool is the responsibility of school leaders. Paul Ainsworth thinks that teaching sport skills, such as cricket, is an effective way to do this

Why do some G&T pupils get bullied for being bright whereas others do not? There is a theory that it is cool to be a bright boy if you are good at sport (for girls, the acceptance is possibly linked more to fashion sense and an attractive appearance). One of the biggest responsibilities of a school leader is to develop a culture where it is cool to be bright. My school has a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and the SLT is prepared to use every sanction to ensure the safety of our pupils, but should one of my duties be to try and equip G&T children with the skills to be resistant to the effects of bullying? As a school, we ensure that the first PSHE module of the year for all pupils tackles the effects of bullying, but would developing G&T boys’ sporting interests be an equally valuable way of ensuring they have a positive experience of school life?

I do have a personal interest here; I was a bright, outspoken and tiny boy in a large comprehensive and I did suffer some bullying. Fortunately, I was blessed with being a sporting all-rounder, not exceptionally talented in any specific discipline but good enough to ensure that I was not seen as a ‘geek’. Among the vast array of sports available to young people, there is one that stands out as giving a range of opportunities for them to develop their talents and accrue some ‘street cred’; that is cricket.

Cricket has a vast bibliography and some fine writers have used the game as an inspiration (Amazon lists 4,671 titles) books. Some favourites include, The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearley, which has crossed over from the world of cricket to business leadership and has an introduction by the film director Sam Mendes; the very moving Penguins Stopped Play: Eleven Village Cricketers Take on the World by Harry Thompson (one of the creators of Have I got News for You) and the humorous Linseed and Fishpaste: Confessions of a Cricket Nut by Mark Bussell.

Fits all sizes First, it is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of all sizes, ages and levels of fitness. It doesn’t matter if you are tall, tiny, overweight or unfit, you can play the game. Secondly, cricket offers three disciplines with opportunities to develop different skill sets: batting, bowling and fielding.

Batting is a skill where you do not have to be large or strong. In fact some of the finest batsmen have been less than 5 foot 8. Most importantly, much of batting takes place in the mind. Many young players are out because they run out of patience and take a wild swipe at the ball. However, the child with well-developed visualisation and self-affirmation techniques (see G&T Update 49) is likely to achieve greater success over time than a more talented individual without these cognitive skills.

Bowlers are continually searching for ways to make the ball difficult to hit, whether swerving through the air (swing) or bouncing in a different direction (spin). There is considerable technical knowledge in making this happen. Indeed, one of my university chemical engineering lecturers wrote papers on the flow of air over a cricket ball in between his industrial research topics.

In many team games, individuals can be ‘frozen out’ of the game by not being passed the ball by their team-mates, but in cricket, wherever you are placed when you are fielding, the ball can still come to you. Fielding is also an activity in which the uncoordinated can become proficient with practice (this is even true at international level, as demonstrated by Monty Panesar’s improvement).

It is the field of cricket captaincy where a G&T pupil can really develop their intellect. Initially, bright children enjoy the code of the fielding positions. The captain must then decide upon the most appropriate places to locate the fielders to stop or catch the ball. The second task is motivating and encouraging the bowlers so that they bowl the ball to the best of their ability.

The last task is deciding the order in which batsman bat and bowlers bowl. The captain must consider not only how this could affect the game and the score, but also how players will respond and how to involve as many as possible so that they feel valued. In some ways this task can be made easier if you are not yearning to bat or bowl yourself. Probably the greatest cricket captain of the last 25 years was Mike Brearley, a man of huge intellect who, while not being the best player in the team, made a massive difference to the players around him. He is now a respected psychologist in addition to his cricket journalism.

In addition to actually playing the game, there are other opportunities to participate. Cricket matches always need a scorer to keep the paper records of the game (some cricket clubs will pay a scorer to do this). Then there is umpiring: the art of deciding upon the trajectory of the ball for the LBW rule is a G&T task in itself.

So why not consider getting your G&T pupils interested in cricket? Organise a trip to a county or test ground and visit their museum; ask an expert to explain the scientific intricacies of ‘swing’ or ‘spin’; find a coach to discuss mental preparation, a statistician to consider the oddities of cricket records; have a game of non-stop cricket in the sports hall. Pupils may then become hooked and develop a love for a leisure pursuit that will ensure wherever they move in the country they have a social outlet.

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