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Avoiding educational labyrinthitis

5/7/16: This week we welcome our Director of Sport, Alex Fermor-Dunman, who shares his thoughts on the importance of providing the balance in education. 

Balance: An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady

At Bryanston we pride ourselves as being tailors of an outstanding education. This means that each pupil has a distinct and individual ‘balance’, which is always forefront in our thoughts as teachers and educators. Through regular one-to-one tutorials and correction periods we facilitate and ensure that each individual has an even distribution of weight to remain upright and that the elements of school life are equal and in correct proportions. It is one of the founding and fundamental principles of our educational philosophy.

In a sporting context, as coaches we preach about ‘proprioception’, or the ability to grasp and fully understand the relative position of parts of your body at any stage in a movement; in essence, sporting balance. You can observe and analyse this over hundreds of sporting channels on your TV. I urge you to watch a full-blooded Rory McIlroy drive, any All Black off-loading out of a rugby tackle, Christa Cullen drag flicking a hockey ball, the outstretched body position of Lindsay Keable whilst playing goal defence for England. My list of balanced and awe-inspiring athletes could be endless, the point of my argument is not. It is impossible to play any level of sport without balance.

The catalogue of crucial inputs to develop and improve balance in sport is enormous. World-class sportsmen and women strive their entire careers to conquer and master these, with help from head coaches, strength and conditioning experts, sports psychologists, sports scientists, physiotherapists, massage therapists and nutritionists: the list of the entourage becomes manifold. With David Brailsford’s ‘marginal gains’ theory on the lips of all elite coaches worldwide, it is no surprise that the search for an athlete’s or team’s perfect ‘balance’ becomes almost the holy grail of coaching.

But what of an individual’s balance? At the most extreme end of the sporting continuum we could analyse American swimmer Michael Phelps. In peak training phases, Phelps swims a minimum of 80,000 metres a week, nearly 50 miles. He trains twice a day, sometimes more if he’s positioned at altitude; sessions last for five to six hours a day, six days a week. 

Phelps adds a punishing weightlifting regime to his dry-land work depending on training phases. He lifts weights three days a week, but prefers own body weight exercises which he feels keep him leaner and less likely to add muscle bulk. In terms of his diet, Phelps eats over 12,000 calories a day or approximately 4,000 calories per meal. This is his balance, his even distribution of weight, that which keeps him upright and steady. It is this balance, combined with a mind-boggling physical frame, intense focus and desire, alongside specific genetic attributes, which has played a large part in his becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time. It would appear that Phelps for the last 14 years has, in a sporting context, been pretty well balanced.

But what happens when your balance deserts you? Anyone unlucky enough to have suffered from labyrinthitis or the inflammation of part of the inner ear will be able to tell you: dizziness, vertigo, spinning rooms, nausea and the absolute urge to lie down, culminating in life grinding to a halt, until rest and medication restore the body to its usual state. 

So let’s cut to the chase: what is my point? It is simply this, at Bryanston an individual’s balance is precisely that, individual. We have no one in Michael Phelps’ sporting league at present, but we do have 677 pupils who need to find their even distribution of weight. They need their specific individual equilibrium of lessons, assignments, exams, drama, music, sport, tutorials, free time, tours, trips, of laughter and of tears. 

This is the Bryanston balance and, for some, sport and exercise will take up a greater percentage; for others, less so. It is our job, as tailors of an outstanding education, to realise this and to facilitate the individual’s balance at every turn, helping them stay healthy, upright and stable. To focus on one specific part of the educational balancing act at the expense or detriment of any other is a sure way for a failure in balance. 

Perhaps we could refer to this failure in balance as ‘educational labyrinthitis’: this is a condition simply not on the agenda at Bryanston. A one-size-fits-all approach will not cut the mustard with regard to what we aim to achieve at Bryanston and is not the recipe for success in the classroom, recital room, concert hall, theatre or sports field. I know that all connected with sport at Bryanston will continue to strive to find our individual athletes’ and teams’ sporting balance. They will keep searching for the sporting holy grail, knowing that this time is well spent, not only in making sport and exercise fun and successful, but also in keeping each of our pupils educationally upright and steady; simply balanced.