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School of sport: Small game


EVERYONE loves to talk about and see the Big Five of elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros – there is an excitement, a danger, a sense of awe about doing so that captures the heart and soul of us all.

In thinking thus, we are often inclined to forget that there are so many other beautiful, inspiring, wild animals to be found in the bush.

What is more, they all play a significant part in the natural world in which they live, so we would be foolish to ignore, underestimate or even discard them.

Whether they are the majestic kudu, the indomitable warthog, the peerless sable, the dainty impala, the gentle duiker, the unobtrusive klipspringer, the inimitable zebra, the placid waterbuck or the shuffling, snorting wildebeest, they all have a wonderful appeal offering amazing experiences for any visitor and viewer.

Of course, they are often the hunted ones, predominantly by the larger animals though equally so by the poachers, hunters or photographers (who are in fact more attracted to the Big Five). It appears that their lives are ones of survival; they will never be the top dog (though such a pun is probably not appropriate) but simply go through each day content with their lot, looking to have their own space food and life. Their life and experience is never easy.

What these animals may lack in strength, in contrast to their larger neighbours, they generally more than make up for with stealth, stamina, slight, smartness, subtlety and even sleuth.

They often play the waiting game, out of respect for the larger, more dangerous animals, or waiting for the right opportunities to come along, while some will rely on speed to avoid the more cumbersome bigger enemies.

They rely on their alertness and intuition, often appearing to be nervous, skittish or even scared but such are clearly their means to survival. It is tough to be in their situation.

What is never in doubt is that small game have an important part in the natural world. As such therefore, we should appreciate them all equally and greatly.

No doubt we all have our favourites, even outside of the Big Five, but each has a uniqueness, a speciality, that can be respected and understood. They all have their habitat and their appeal, and rarely seek to change that.

Just as we considered previously how the Big Five animals can be likened to the Big Five team sports, so we can recognise and learn from the role and importance that small game and smaller team games equally play.

There are many other team games that are played in our schools that clearly and correctly have their place.

The big five team sports may dominate but the smaller team sports are important and valuable. The big five team sports may be more exciting, thrilling, unpredictable, but there is a beauty and delight in participating in and watching the smaller team sports; there may not be the chase, the dirt flying, the aggressive behaviour, the power or the glory but there is something wonderful still to behold in the smaller games.

The smaller team games, like small game, often rely more on subtlety, on accuracy, on stealth and alertness.

Disguise and camouflage may come into play more; concentration and focus on possible areas of attack will be prevalent, all such key abilities and instincts in life as well as in sport.

There is just as much pride and dignity in such sports that we need to learn to appreciate and applaud.

Similarly, it is recognised that smaller schools, not just the big schools, have an important part to play in the development of sport as a whole in this country. Sadly, as with the natural world where poaching and hunting is all too common, we find the bigger schools homing in on the smaller schools to take away the talented players, without realising the damaging effect this has on the wider world of sport.

We might argue that there is a difference between hunting and poaching but it is fair to say there is no difference to the animals – and neither is there to the smaller sports or the smaller schools. Furthermore, we can see the same attributes when we consider the smaller teams in our schools – the junior teams as well as the B and C teams.

They have an equal right and responsibility to play sport and their efforts, style and commitment should be enjoyed and appreciated.

They too most certainly have their place in the sporting and educational world.

It is not just big games we should go out to experience and enjoy; small games are equally vital.

  • Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email:

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