More than half of children in Dubai’s private schools do not play any team sports - with the cost of taking part putting many on the sidelines, say educators.
Only 45 per cent children of in the city's private schools participate in any kind of organised team sports according to a recent report published by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the private school regulators in the emirate.
Marc Starr, high school principal at Dubai American Academy said high costs of sports activities are preventing people from taking part.
"Many of the service providers with sports facilities at a high level have significant costs involved. Giving sponsorships or reducing costs in different elements would help increase participation. Sports classes become an added expense for many people in Dubai, especially with the additional costs many families are having to cover. I think the more developed the team programme at the school is, the higher the possibility of children being involved in sports,” said Mr Starr.
“Also, Dubai is very spread out. Depending on where they live and where the sports activities are taking place, it can be very tricky for families to get their children to different activities over the city,” he added.
Educators believe schools need to widen their offerings in the realm of sports and encourage children across athletic calibre to get involved in sports.
Getting involved in team sports may help break the ice for many new pupils moving to Dubai.
At times, about 50 children try out for 20 spots on a team, where many are disheartened as they aren’t able to make the team.
“An area for growth in schools might be club sports that are not at a highly competitive level but give children the chance for playing sports even if they don’t represent the school in competitions,” he said.
Mr Starr said that 90 per cent of the pupils at his school are involved in athletic activities and about 40 per cent of grade 12 pupils participate in varsity teams.
Excessive competition in private schools of Dubai is pushing pupils away from athletics says Liam Kirwan, athletics director at Bradenton Preparatory Academy.
“A lot of private schools have come to a stage where it’s all about competition and winning. People who are not as athletically gifted are pushed out. When children think they can succeed, they want to participate in sports,” he said.
He believes high competition for places at larger schools does not give children the opportunity to build confidence. At a large school where he worked, he saw children completely put off by sports because they couldn’t make the team.
“Cost is another factor with the current economic situation,” he said.
The director of athletics believes the onus to provide different opportunities to the pupils falls on the schools.
“Parents are already paying such high tuition fees. At our school a point of focus is to provide various different individual and team sports. We have designed the physical education programme to allow every pupil to be successful regardless of their physical ability. It’s not about creating super-start athletes but giving children the chance to be physically active,” he added.
Show pupils that they can enjoy sports not just compete, advised the director.
“Every pupil is different. Create a positive atmosphere where they can try something new,” he advised.
The provision of scholarships is another recommendation as it allows pupils who are more athletically gifted to take their goals forward.
Sandeep Vashisht senior supervisor at Indian High School in Dubai said he sees 400 to 600 children participating at the summer camp every year.
“We have before and after school training but summer months can be very hot here. Indoor facilities help and child enjoy chess, badminton and ice skating indoor," he said.
Throughout the year, football and cricket are the most popular sports at the school. There are male and female teams for football and cricket at the school.
“We encourage children to participate in sports right from day one through inter-house matches. They compete within the school and then we select the school team who play internationally as well," said Mr Vashisht.
Dubai Health Authority has mandated that schools ensure pupils exercise for a minimum of 150 minutes a week.
The National reported earlier that children at private schools have packed curriculums and may need to start school earlier and finish later to ensure they meet the minimum exercise requirement.