Principal's Assembly 11th May 2021


Further to the end of last week’s assembly, I would like to tell you that the one time I was sent off at football was a case of mistaken identity. Or, at least, a handball to save a goal in the dramatic end to a nail-biting cup final. But I can’t.

In fact, the memory is clear as day, 25 years later. We were playing against Durham City’s agricultural college and I think it’s fair to say that some of the challenges lived up to their occupation.

After about half an hour, I’d had enough and when the referee waved play on after a tackle that verged on assault, I made my feelings fairly clear in words to the effect of “My most respected arbiter, I believe that you may have got that decision incorrect. Would you like to reconsider?” The actual words I used cost me a five week ban and a 35 quid fine. I didn’t do it again.

Owning up to our errors and making sure we don’t repeat them is an important part of life. Ex-England and Arsenal footballer Paul Merson was never sent off in his career, but he is a man who accepts his own past and the impact it had on his loved ones.

Merson’s battles with alcohol, drugs and gambling left him on the verge of taking his own life. Now aged 53 and in recovery, he dedicates much of his time to helping young men with mental health problems. His priority is to make sure that people know that they have people to talk to about their worries.

BBC Breakfast - Silent football to raise awareness of male suicide | Facebook

Over the weekend, I read an article written by an independent school headmistress entitled The Post-Pandemic Extra-Curricular Conundrum. The headmistress was voicing her concern that the prolonged school closures and continued restrictions around sport, music and drama might forever damage the significance of what goes on outside the classroom.

I see her point: however hard our staff tried – and I marvelled at some of the innovation – it was impossible to recreate the same sense of engagement and teamwork over Google Classroom. She was worried that remote learning may have permanently damaged your view on the significance of extra-curricular activity and consequently your appetite for it.

At the same time – and this pre-dates Covid-19 – what you view as a club or activity and my old-fashioned experiences can be very different. I genuinely can’t get my head around esports. To be clear, this is no disrespect to the computer science behind the games, I just can’t figure out how FIFA or Fortnite can attract so much attention and prize money. Don’t you just want to get out and kick an actual ball? I know, I’m old.

Given lockdown restrictions, of course it is no surprise that the time you have spent on-line has risen dramatically. There was little else to do. Thankfully now those restrictions have started to be lifted, we are seeing a return to competitive sport, the reopening of gyms and soon the resurrection of live music and theatre. I don’t think it will be too long before we can release you from your bubbles, at least outside. Fixtures are planned for after half-term as is Sports Day.

There is no doubt in my mind at all that returning to normal extra-curricular commitments signals a key phase in post-pandemic recovery. As we are now in the national Mental Health Awareness Week, with its theme of getting outdoors, it’s certainly opportune to remind ourselves of the link between physical health and mental well-being. Whether as a way of switching off from other pressures, getting a better night’s sleep or feeling part of a team, so much current research points to the benefits of exercise.

There is also so much that you can learn from extra-curricular commitment that is transferable to other aspects of your life: learning to win with humility and lose with grace; dedication levels needed to improve; leadership skills; or understanding that a team is only as good as its weakest link. These personality traits are amongst the most sought after by universities and your future employers.

Whether it be a netball team, choir or production, don’t underestimate the social advantages of extra-curricular clubs. Certainly when you get to university, they will provide you with a ready-made set of friends; some of them will become friends for life, some of them will become the people that you talk to when you need a friend the most.


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