Can clever kids be good at sport?

Can clever kids be good at sport?

The short answer is yes, of course, they can.

There are plenty of ‘clever kids’ in professional sport. Off the top of my head, I can think of Sam Underhill, England rugby player, who went to grammar school and was studying politics and economics at university alongside playing professional rugby. There’s also Polly Swann, Team GB rower, who went straight home from the summer Olympics of 2020 (2021) to carry on working as a doctor.

Actually, being clever is pretty useful in sport. Sport is strategic and clever kids can often work out strategies as they play. Clever kids know. for example, to get into space in football or rugby while the other kids are crowding together. This helps them and it helps the team.

Bu there may be a misconception among schools and teachers about clever kids. That was certainly our experience.

I got reflecting on it recently, as my son has just left school. My son, the one who came fourth in long jump at the English Schools national competition, was always rather overlooked with sport at primary school. Academically, he was way out at the top of the class at his primary school – literally the cleverest kid they’d seen in a generation – so they didn’t notice his sporting talent.

Yet this clever kid, who is pretty much top of the class at a highly selective, highly academic state school still managed to come fourth in the main national athletics competition for young people.

Our primary school was always pretty terrible at sport anyway. They didn’t place enough importance on it. They entered lots of competitions, but never trained for them. Every year, the Key Stage 2 children used to enter an athletics competition against other primary schools in the district. My daughter competed for the school every year from year 3 to year 6. My son only competed in year 5 and 6.

Because the school had completely failed to notice his talent and potential.

I also remember his absolute heartbreak at being left out of the school football team over and over again. To put into context how good he actually was at football, two years after leaving school, he was the top scorer in the district youth league. But the school kept leaving him out of the team. It wasn’t that they had a policy of rotating players, as plenty of kids played every game. They either couldn’t see his talent because his intelligence had blinded them to it or they felt that being clever was ‘enough’ and he didn’t ‘need’ to be good at sport too.

While this was only our experience, I suspect it’s a fairly common one.

Now I totally get that less academic kids should be given their chance to shine and be good at something. I am in complete agreement with that. They should be given the opportunity to play sport and compete for their school or club.

But I’m asking teachers and coaches not to ignore the clever kids. If they want to play, encourage them. If they show talent, nurture it. Don’t leave them out. Because you might be encouraging a future elite sportsperson to give up on sport before they’ve had their chance to shine.

Football, Children, Sport, Coach, Teacher

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Everyone should be given the chance in sports and academically. I blame American films and TV shows with the jocks and nerds who give the impression that football players are dumb and clever kids can’t even kick a ball. It’s wrong and unfair to those who can easily do both and should be given the chance. x

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    • Thank you! That is so true. I hadn’t even considered that about films and TV shows, but that is a very good point.
      I’m just grateful my son went to a secondary school which really nurtured kids with their sport. He’s put in a huge amount of work himself, but the school really got him off to a great start. x

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  2. I think my brother and I were lucky at our primary school. Everyone got chance to take part and play for teams (not that we ever had the interschool competitions N’s school seemed to have nowadays). Didn’t tmatter that we were clever academically. But I think from recallation, most of the kids good at sport were generally on the top end of the class academically anyway. Secondary again, we just took part in everything, and were in all the teams we wanted. We obviously lucked out.

    But I do think all sports teachers should be encouraging all kids, whether they think they’ll be sporty or not. Because as you say, it should be fairly obvious which children have ability even when young

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    • It sounds like you have all been lucky! I must say I don’t remember that much about school sport, but I did play for the school hockey team at both primary and secondary and was always picked for a running race on sports day at both primary and secondary.
      It definitely didn’t help that our primary school was just generally bad at sport. My son could always run very fast, which is the basis of being good at a lot of sports, yet the school totally failed to see that. Luckily we had the foresight to get my son playing football and rugby outside of school from an early age. Once he got to secondary school, the PE staff saw his talent and nurtured it.

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