July 2013 issue

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High school sports down under

With its favourable climate, excellent school facilities and strong national interest in sports, Claire Twyman thinks that there is no better place for high school students to practise sports than in Australia.

As Peter Stokes at Narrabeen Sports High School in North Narrabeen, NSW puts it, “Sport is a universal language and there are advantages to playing sport everywhere. However, Australians are renowned for their love of sport, and the climate in Australia makes it possible to enjoy playing and watching sport all year round.” Naturally many high schools in the country have the same ethos, offering a range of sports facilities to international students at all levels – whether they are hoping to play professionally or simply enjoy the recreational value.

Narrabean nurtures budding athletes. In 2012, the NSW government launched the Northern Sydney Scholastic and Sports Academy as part of a plan to improve education on the Northern Beaches region of Sydney, and the programme is now fully embedded in the school’s curriculum. “Operating at two levels, it is designed to cater for the differing sporting skill levels and overall needs of students,” says Stokes, explaining that the programme also promotes positive behaviours such as team work.

The first level – The Emerging Elite Athlete Program – is for students in years seven-to-10 who want to develop skills in sports fields including basketball, dance and rugby. “Specific skills coaching is provided three hours a week,” Stokes continues, “and it is envisaged that team training and matches will occur with increasing student interest.” Also providing sports-focussed seminars and staff mentoring, the second level, the Elite Athlete Program for students in years 11-to-12, provides assistance to manage the demands placed on students by offering individualised academic timetables and other services. “We recognise the incredible demands placed on young athletes as they balance commitments in their chosen sport and in the classroom,” Stokes says. “We value a balanced curriculum, and to assist elite level athletes achieve their academic potential we have appointed teacher mentors.”

So far the programme has seen interest from Germany, while The Hills Sports High School in Sydney, NSW, receives many international applications for the Talented Sports Program (TSP). “Students from Polynesia and the Pacific Islands tend to be very keen on rugby league,” reveals Robert Hawkes at the school, “while golf seems to be becoming very popular with students from South Korea.”

Currently the programme offers coaching in 15 sports including athletics, cheerleading and water polo. “Students receive four 53-minute periods of elite coaching/skill development in their chosen sport each week,” Hawkes explains, adding that facilities at the school include a 25-metre heated indoor pool, a state-of-the-art gymnasium and a synthetic football pitch. “Playing against international teams and in international championships definitely enhance racial tolerance, social understanding and goodwill,” he continues.

Meanwhile Cranbrook School in Bellevue Hill, NSW, welcomes international students from a range of abilities onto sporting programmes, and the school has seen some talented Thai rugby players in the past, according to Michael Atkins. “As with all the top Australian boys’ schools, sport is compulsory at Cranbrook,” he reveals. “Every boy has to play a summer sport and a winter sport, is coached twice per week and plays in a team versus another school team on a Saturday morning.” With summer sports on offer including sailing, cricket and tennis, snow sports are also an option in the school holidays. “We market sport as part of what we see as a high quality boys’ education,” he adds, “in particular it is a conduit for language acquisition for international students. It assists in the development of emotional intelligences, the skills that employers are seeking in a global economy.”

Many of the country’s girls’ schools also recognise the positive impact sporting opportunities have on overseas students. Indeed, Katherine O’Dowd from Melbourne Girls Grammar, VIC, explains that the institution was one of the original eight forming Girls Sport Victoria, an organisation holding sporting competitions and skills development programmes for girls in years seven-to-12. Also in Victoria, Mentone Girls’ Grammar is also a member of the organisation. Facilities at the institution include an indoor gymnasium, three tennis courts and a dance studio, according to the school’s Peter O’Donnell.

In terms of marketing, Hawkes from The Hills Sports High School says that the school website is a good tool, although “the school’s outstanding performance in major tournaments does seem to attract a lot of students.” Meanwhile, Cranbrook accepts applications from agents, according to Atkins, and representatives also visit markets such as Hong Kong, China and Singapore.

Agent perspectives

“It’s sometimes difficult for international high school students to make friends in Australia,” notes Constanze Baarlage from TravelWorks agency in Germany, “and sports are the easiest way to make Australian friends. We therefore encourage all our students to get involved at their local high school,” she adds, mentioning that John Paul College in Daisy Hill, QLD, has a great aquatics programme.

In terms of the popularity of sporting programmes in Australia, Adela Makashi from ANDE-LM in Albania says that they are not a deciding factor for high school clients going to Australia. Daniela Weissner from Kultur Life in Germany, on the other hand, relates, “We often have very concrete requests about certain sports programmes at high schools in Australia...the image is that there are many more possibilities to do certain kinds of sports, such as surfing, which cannot be done in Germany.” And, as Carlos Robles at Intercultural Education Programs (IEP) Brazil finds,“Brazilian students and parents see the possibility of undergoing diverse sports activities while doing a high school programme in Australia. We have been sending students with the help of Education Tasmania, [the state’s Department of Education].”

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