Many independent schools lay great emphasis on sports and games and there may be pressure to play the team sport of the term – perhaps rugby/netball (autumn), hockey (spring) and cricket/tennis (summer). Most have excellent facilities on-site or nearby, frequently including sports halls, swimming pools and floodlit astroturf pitches.
The principal and most popular field games are: rugby union, cricket, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, handball, softball, rounders and forms of baseball. Some Irish schools provide hurling and Gaelic football. The main court games are: netball, lawn tennis, hard-court tennis, badminton, basketball, squash, rackets, volleyball, and croquet; plus Eton fives and Rugby fives. A few schools provide real tennis.
Of the course games, golf is easily the most popular. Quite a lot of schools have 9-hole courses on their estates, or have access to courses nearby.
Athletics are very popular and most schools can provide a full range of field and track events (quite a few schools have all-weather running tracks) and cross-country running. Some martial arts are available including judo, karate, kendo and kung-fu. Fencing is popular, but school boxing is a thing of the past.
Target sports (eg archery, clay pigeon shooting, rifle-shooting – small and fullbore) are available in quite a lot of schools and are often linked with activities in the CCF.
Water sports (especially swimming, water polo, surfing, canoeing, sailing, rowing and diving) are always popular. Schools near the sea, a river or a lake often make good use of water.
Gymnastic sports are extremely popular and most schools have good facilities.
Some schools (particularly an increasing number of girls’ schools) can provide riding and some show jumping; quite a number have facilities for pupils to bring their own horses or ponies.
Outdoor pursuits are often closely associated with sport (or are sports in their own right), and include sailing, canoeing, skiing, rock climbing, fell walking, cliff scaling, gliding and parachuting. Country schools (especially those in Scotland and the North of England) have a very full range of outdoor pursuits/sports and a number have outdoor pursuit centres which pupils can visit for a few days at a time. Such activities have links with various enterprises in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
The mens sana in corpore sano philosophy – no doubt a continuation of the Victorian cult of athletic prowess and muscular Christianity – is still widespread and many schools see team and individual sports and games as valuable character-building influences. Most schools have a hard core of dedicated sports/games enthusiasts on the staff (some Heads are fanatics) who are qualified to coach, referee and umpire and who are prepared to devote an enormous amount of time and effort to their chosen activity. The majority of schools run sports and games competitively, with inter-house competitions and numerous fixtures with other schools. Many schools have county, regional and international players among their pupils, at U14, U16 and U18 level (and have former pupils in the national sides in a number of sports). Many schools have ‘sport-for-all’ policies, with an emphasis on individual sports and health-related fitness, with the aim of inculcating the habit of taking exercise, even among the most lethargic teenagers.