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Primary Education News
News Why I swapped professional football for teaching PE
When a knee injury forced Ben Leonard to abandon playing for Bury FC, he put his drive into a career teaching PE and exchanged goals for education awards
When I was younger, like so many young lads, I wanted to be a professional footballer. I was really encouraged by my great PE teacher at Ecclesfield secondary school in Sheffield and back then realised teaching PE was something I could see myself doing when I was older.
After my GCSEs, I went to Barnsley College. My doctor advised me not to do a sports related A-levels as I had a bad knee injury. I've had osteochondritis all my life. It's incredibly painful when it flares up, usually after a prolonged period of doing a lot of physical exercise, but I love sport so much I just can't avoid it. In a way having my condition has made me even more determined to pursue sport as a career. I've had various operations on my knee since birth and I had another one when I was doing my A-levels which meant I was able to do a degree in PE and youth sport at Sheffield Hallam University. It was such a great feeling to be involved in sports again.
After I graduated I got a job as assistant community officer/disability football coordinator at Sheffield Wednesday FC. I think having my knee injury has really opened my eyes up to how important it is to provide opportunities for everyone, including people with disabilities, to be involved in sport.
When I was 24 I got the chance of a trial at Bury Football club. I got a year's professional football contract; it was my dream come true. But my knee injury flared up again. I had to have an operation to remove a cyst and my surgeon said that my knee couldn't withstand a career in professional football. I had to rest. It was really gutting to have an opportunity like that and not be able to make the most of it. I became a bit down. I had a lot of time to think about what to do next while I was resting my knee. I knew I had to find a career that would accommodate my injury and my love of sport and thought back to teaching.
I became a cover supervisor at Campsmount Technical college. It was a massive drop in wages for me but my determination to be a teacher kept me going. A few months after I started, 90% of the school was burnt down in a catastrophic fire and we were forced to teach in mobile cabins and church halls. It was a real challenge but my experience there was really valuable and I got a place doing my teacher training on the GTP scheme at St Lawrence Academy in Scunthorpe. At the same time I did my masters in education at Bishop Grosseteste University and got really interested in how ICT and mobile technology could be used in PE teaching.
I did my NQT year at Westfield sports college in Sheffield, where I'm now in my second year of teaching. I realised most students in our school had smart phones and spent a huge amount of time texting and on social media. Some students were disengaged in PE lessons, particularly in team sport. I wondered if I could use apps and social media to get them into it. We had a 'no mobiles' policy at school but the headteacher agreed to change it so teachers could make targeted use of mobiles - if students used them inappropriately they would have them confiscated and their parents would have to come to the school to get the phones back which was pretty off-putting.
There are so many ways to use smart phones and iPads in PE, from scanning QR codes to show particular basketball shot to links to videos for differentiated tasks, to creating class hashtags on Twitter for a 24/7 learning environment - all this can naturally be embedded within a lesson. I've found once I dangle the iPad carrot in front of certain students I can get them excited and joining in. Those who hadn't been into team sports have found they can have other roles in class - for example using iPads for performance analysis. Then it's a natural progression to get more involved in warm ups and so on until they are absolutely engaged. I work with the nurture group in school including students with physical disabilities. I have a girl who uses a wheelchair in my class and through the iPad and analysis software she is no longer watching on the sidelines but fully involved in the lesson. It really has had a huge impact and the work has been recognised nationally with Westfield winning the Youth Sports Trusts' innovation for excellent secondary PE department.
I'm still in the infancy of my teaching career, but I'm already seeing the students progress as a result of my teaching and feel really proud of that. I've now got whole school responsibility as lead coach for creating innovative and invigorating ideas to be using in teaching and learning to enhance lessons across any subject.
I like to think outside the box and embrace new ideas - and have found the power of social networking that is the best CPD out there. Through #edchat and #PEgeek on Twitter I've found a whole teaching community. I'm a massive fan of edmodo which is an online classroom a bit like Facebook but safe and secure.
After my operation to remove the cyst, my knee is looking good so I'm now playing semi pro football at the weekends again but I can't play professionally. I'm all set on my teaching career now and enjoying it so much. I've done a number of staff insets across the country, including one at Passmores Academy when the head got in touch after following me on Twitter. I've forged a great link with them now and I'm in the process of setting up a consultancy to get this nationwide.
Ben's PE teaching resources on the Guardian Teacher Network
Ben Leonard is a teacher of PE at Westfield Sports College in Sheffield, where he is literacy leader in PE, an NQT mentor and a lead coach working on raising standards in teaching and learning across the school. Ben is a Youth Sport Trust Innovation Award Winner and has also given staff insets across the country, contact him for more info at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch on Twitter @PEeducator. He blogs at http://peeducator.wordpress.com/.