Visit any primary or secondary school in England on a warm summer’s day and you will likely see a game of rounders on the playing fields. I have yet to experience a school where rounders is not part of the summer curriculum, and in fact it is quite often part of the very fabric that people associate with summer term as a whole. But here is the question I have been posing of late – why? What is it with this sport that makes it such a staple part of what we do as PE teachers?

Exploring the worth of any curriculum activity objectively is important (see my previous post on why I might banish football from the PE curriculum), ensuring that our curriculum serves a purpose for the development of the students we teach. Therefore, what reasons are there for an activity being a part of the curriculum? Here is a list that I have come up with:

  1. It helps develop an array of important physical and technical skills
  2. It is fun
  3. It has natural links to external pathways, such as community teams, promoting continued involvement in physical activity
  4. It creates opportunities for social and cognitive development
  5. It increases student success in an accredited course, such as GCSE PE

How many of these does rounders tick? When taught well, it can certainly achieve numbers 1, 2 and 4. Number 3, not so much. Why is it that a sport so ingrained in the culture of school life in this country lacks any real network of community teams and leagues? I have yet to teach a student, across 3 different counties, that has played rounders outside of school. I have no doubt there will be a handful of you reading this claiming the contrary, but the majority I’m sure will agree. The district in which I teach has a thriving inter-school programme of rounders fixtures for girls, but no scope for continuing upon leaving. Herein lies my first issue with the sport.

As for number 5, we all know that rounders has controversially been scrapped from the approved list of sports for GCSE PE, much to the dismay of many.

My second, and perhaps bigger issue, is this – rounders, and the glorious sunny weather we hope to teach it in, often leads PE teachers to become lazy. How many times have we, or our colleagues, “taught” a lesson of rounders that involves students simply playing the game in its official form? Upon gaining my job at my current school 4 years ago, rounders was considered an activity to be offered to lower ability students in the place of cricket. Much more recently, I witnessed a lower ability year 10 girls class playing a game of rounders. This so-called game for lower ability students resulted in a hit rate of about 15%, a catch rate of about 5%, and a general energy level score of 0. It was boring to watch, students experienced next to no success, and it developed nothing of any worth. Now I am not having a dig at the teacher in question, because the lesson took place on our GCSE moderation day and it was simply a one-off lesson to get them out of the way of the practical assessments taking place. However, why are we letting a group of girls play a game that gives them no success and develops no skills whatsoever? Why is there not a simpler, more accessible, more fun game available in place?

Played well, rounders is a challenging, high intensity, incredibly tactical striking and fielding game that is exciting to watch and play. But how many of us have witnessed the version mentioned about, where most students get 2 bats across a lesson, and hit the ball, on average, 0 times? There are 2 issues that I am trying to highlight here:

  • Our love affair with the game of rounders often makes us resistant to adapting it – Asking most students to hit a very small white ball with a very small wooden bat is a huge challenge. Why are we not, as a consistent practice, giving them paddle bats or even tennis rackets? If the number of hits significantly increased, it would also give ample more opportunities for fielders to demonstrate and improve their skills
  • We are too quick to involve students in the full version of the game – I blame the weather for this, because playing a recreational game of rounders in glorious sunshine is great fun in anyones eyes. But are we took quick to neglect developing the key skills and tactics required to play the game effectively, thus making it both more enjoyable and challenging? How many students play games of rounders without actually knowing how to catch correctly? Far too many in my eyes.

However, the one thing I cannot put my finger on is this – despite the fact that most students miss the ball more often than they hit it, they CANNOT GET ENOUGH OF THIS GAME! With year 11 classes at this time of year, students are given options. Rounders is always one of the most popular choices. Why? Because it gives them a chance to sit on the field for half the game doing very little? Or because they genuinely enjoy the thrill it offers them as a competitive sport? I expect it is a bit of both, with a few too many students choosing it for the less desirable former. But is it enough of a reason to keep a sport on the curriculum because it is highly enjoyable to most students? A big part of me thinks yes. However, I still feel we need to challenge our love affair with the game in its traditional form and increase our willingness to offer the game to students in ways which allows them to access an appropriate level of success and challenge. If we do that, then maybe the year 11 core PE lessons where students are opting for rounders will become the high quality, high intensity and highly competitive game that we all love to watch. And maybe, just maybe, students will get to year 11 with an understanding and a capability of catching a rounders ball flying in the air towards them.