Still struggling to get your female students excited about sport? Duncan Smillie reckons that rugby could be the answer…
England’s women’s rugby team epitomises all that the This Girl Can campaign stands for. With the current English women’s rugby team as World Champions, it is an ideal time to drive this sport in our schools. Not only does the national team represent icons of sporting prowess, they also demonstrate that rugby is a game which can boost girls’ confidence, self-esteem, communication skills, teamwork and leadership, as well as encouraging grit, determination, resilience and endeavour. The opportunities for ‘character education’, at the same time as developing subject specific skills, are manifest and manifold. This lesson provides an introduction to contact at the same time as building communication, confidence and awareness.
Sport in schools is changing: the days of ‘girls’ sports’ and ‘boys’ sports’ are over. At The Spires College, we’ve noticed a definite shift in the attitudes and expectations of girls, particularly in Key Stage 3, with a clamour to participate in a wider range of sports. Over the last two years, we have introduced a Girls’ Rugby Scheme of Learning in Year 7 with huge success.
WHY TEACH THIS?
Girls’ sport is on the up. With such initiatives as This Girl Can sweeping the nation and taking social media by storm, women and girls are being inspired “to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome.” There has never been a better time to encourage girls to take part in sport and for them to learn that women’s sport extends far beyond hockey, netball and aerobics.
The warm up should be simple and active. Putting the students straight into small sided games, using grids, and encouraging lots of little touches of the ball helps to keep them involved, motivated and focused, at the same time as working towards the learning objectives from the outset. Use a couple of 10m by 10m grids and have teams of four or five moving around the grid, using two steps, to keep the ball away from the other team. Passing can be in any direction but must be a rugby style pass: both hands on the ball and a swinging motion across the body. Five successful passes count as a try.
You can extend the warm up by introducing ‘stuck in the mud’, in which two or three girls must move the ball between them using rugby passes at the same time as seeking to ‘tag’ other students on the hips with the ball. If they succeed, the tagged student is turned into a ‘statue’ who can only be released by another student sliding through their legs. Not only does this introduce contact, at the same time as building communication, confidence and awareness, this activity gets the girls used to getting muddy! In the words of This Girl Can students are encouraged to “do their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets!” I’ve found that students are more receptive to this if the teacher embraces the mud during the demonstration. We should always lead by example!
After the warm up, merge two of the grids together and play a larger scale game. Add a try line to each end and encourage the girls to be more aware of their surroundings: space, team mates and opponents. A focus on communication and having a voice is imperative. I encourage the girls to ‘call for the ball’ and demonstrate that they want to be involved. Start by playing a netball style game in which they are only allowed to take three steps; they score by receiving a pass into the try line they are attacking. Possession is lost if they are tagged on both hips with an opponent’s hands. This begins to encourage contact and the confidence to pass the ball. At this stage, still allow all types of passes as long as they are recognisable rugby passes. You can introduce rules to support the less able or to challenge the more able, such as specifying types of permitted pass or the number of steps allowed with the ball.
The RFU have developed the concept of the ‘Tower of Power’ to develop safe and effective body posture when tackling, scrimmaging and rucking. Use an iPad to show students a clip of the ‘Tower of Power’ in action. Practise the positioning and posture as a whole group and then develop in coaching pairs before moving back into the game. Return to the ‘Tower of Power’ during breaks in play to reinforce and refine this essential concept.
As the lesson progresses, the initial game can be developed by adding new rules, such as only being able to pass sideways or backwards, and by making the girls run forward once they have received a pass. Introduce more challenging elements of contact: instead of simply touching hips, get students to hold their opponents around the hips, using the Tower of Power as the model of good practice. A further level of challenge can be introduced by limiting the number of touches allowed or restricting movement with the ball, encouraging everybody to be involved and not allowing a small group of students to dominate the game.
Checking understanding and assessing progress after each practice or introduction of a new skill is critical. Every teacher will have his or her own toolkit of plenary activities but a favourite of mine which works well in this lesson is ‘Charades’. Split the class into smaller groups and ask them to break the skill just learned down into teaching points before miming the teaching points to the rest of the class. Ask the ‘audience’ what the mime represents and why. Encourage students to build on each other’s responses and pass the question on: once they have answered a question they must come up with another question and pass it on.
Homework might involve researching the history and rules of rugby, watching a game and writing a post-match report or identifying a positive role model for female rugby and explaining why. The latter is a particularly powerful activity for raising girls’ aspirations in sport, across the curriculum and beyond school.
ABOUT OUR EXPERT
Duncan Smillie has been a PE teacher for seven years and is Assistant Head of PE at The Spires College, Torquay. He was a late entrant to the profession and loves the choice that he made!
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