How to choose the right sport for everyone

Stacey Howard

Stacey Howard is a specialist teacher (supporting SEND children in mainstream PE) at Holy Family School, Carlton, Yorkshire, and is the winner of Sky Sports Living for Sport Teacher of the Year Award.

Follow @SkySportsLFS

Website: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

There is a sport for everyone; that’s my strong belief. But reaching students who seem to have no interest in sport, or who are clearly disillusioned by PE at school, is nevertheless a challenge that requires real energy and innovation.

When people ask where my sporting genes come from I’m never sure how to answer, because my mum tells me she hated PE at school and dad was famous for taking short-cuts in cross country and heading off for a cup of tea instead!

But when I think how much sport has given me, and the power it has to change the lives of young people, it makes me more determined than ever to find ways to engage students who have felt alienated by school sport.

I was determined to focus my energy on students who, for whatever reasons, felt uncomfortable about PE, by introducing projects designed to entice them into sport and raise their confidence and self-esteem at the same time.

Our programme was based around a lunchtime club in which students, normally chosen from the Learning Support Unit and who have found it difficult to settle into High School life, learn life skills and try out new sports.

A big tip is to give students a voice. We allowed them to decide themselves each week what sports or topics to concentrate on, and this noticeably increased engagement levels. But the most important foundation for all of us was having the energy and drive to keep thinking of new and original ways to tempt students in.

The key tactics I would recommend, and which worked well at Holy Family Carlton, are as follows.

Choose innovative sports

I found the key to engaging students who have shown no interest in PE or sport before is to create a level playing field by introducing an exciting new sport that nobody has tried before.
Mainstream sports such as football are great and have their place in PE, but many pupils arrive at secondary school already believing they aren’t good at it, or carrying a negative feeling about team sports.

Introducing the group to something different changes the dynamic completely. Suddenly, everyone is in the same boat – needing to learn the rules for the first time, trying out new skills. Everybody starts from scratch.

Slacklining is one of the sports we have had most success with. It’s a bit like tightrope walking, and engages students really quickly. It is fantastic for balance and coordination, creates a real buzz and a team spirit too as the students cheer each other on.


Wheelchair Basketball is another example of an unusual sport that entices non-sporty students to get involved. A local club loans us their wheelchairs once a year for a week and the game is a great leveller – nobody has ever done it before. The students come in at lunchtime to practice and they have progressed so much that some have recently done their Level One coaching badges.

Boccia – a Paralympic version of bowls – is another wonderfully inclusive sport that has played a big part in reaching historically non-sporty students at our school.

Consider non-competitive sports

Competitive sport has an important part in school life but it is also crucial to remember that many students are put off by competition and need to be engaged in different ways. When you look at the obesity problem in this country, it only underlines how vital it is to get as many young people involved in sporting activity as possible.


We try and choose sports which are fun and challenging rather than competitive; it is amazing how much difference that makes for students who have a negative feeling about traditional sports and an aversion to PE.

Outdoor education centres are invaluable when it comes to introducing students to new sports, and I would recommend them wholeheartedly.


We take our students for day trips to try out team building activities which build friendships and confidence. Rock climbing and kayaking are good examples – and although these are sports that cannot be offered in school, it should be possible to forge relationships with local clubs so students know where to go out of school to learn more. We are lucky enough to have an indoor ski slope close to us, too – so sledging has proved popular.

It is worth pointing out, too, that just because a sport is non-competitive doesn’t mean it cannot provide a personal challenge; encouraging students to ‘beat their own record’ creates an element of self-competition and provides experience in goal-setting.

Hold taster sessions

As I mentioned, I’m convinced there is a sport out there for everyone; so taster sessions are an excellent way of introducing a wide variety of sports over a long period of time.


Hosting an annual celebration of sport can provide an opportunity to reach large numbers of students quickly, too. We choose to host ours a week after National School Sport Week – mainly because it is so difficult to find the right people to come in during the week itself. It is a great opportunity to bring in the slackline and a portable rock climbing wall – and also to introduce something completely new each year. Combining it with a charity fancy-dress fun run encourages exercise in a fun and unpressurised environment.

Think outside the pitch

There are plenty of ways to get involved in sport, and to buy into healthy living principles, even if you are not necessarily a sporty person.Learning leadership and mentoring skills can bring a huge boost in self-confidence and self-worth; and helping students take coaching or refereeing qualifications is an interesting tool.

We recently saw six students who had previously shown no interest in PE and had never enjoyed sport successfully engaged by taking a qualification in officiating at boccia. They now umpire once a week while other students play in the team.

It just shows that sport has the power to reach out to everyone if you work hard enough to find a way.

Image Credit

How do you go about assigning sports activities? Let us know in the comments.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"