"We don't use machines. We build them."
A strange phrase to many, but not to the students of the British School of Kuwait, who have seen their Physical education lessons take a radical step in a new direction with the introduction of CrossFit to the curriculum.
Calum Erskine, Head of PE at BSK, discovered CrossFit whilst coaching soccer in California, and immediately saw the potential it held for his students in Kuwait.
“I wanted to trial the activity with one of my classes, but for the entire academic year. This meant while other groups in that year were rotating through team games, swimming and athletics my guys just did CrossFit for their PE lesson every week,” Erskine said.
There were a few hurdles to overcome before the idea could become reality but Erskine feels that the effort required to make the lessons happen was worth it. The students have enjoyed taking part in CrossFit so much that BSK have started an extra-curricular programme after school.
“In the beginning we were restricted by space (and heat!) and the lack of equipment, but it gained momentum – enough to push for an after school programme. The school have employed two full time CrossFit coaches to supplement the PE programme and run a fully-fledged after school class. Two years on and the programme is still going strong!”
Head Coach of CrossFit BSK Andy Stangroom believes that the introduction of the activity has seen very positive results amongst the school community.
“Physically, teens and kids are losing weight, and the male teens especially are gaining muscle mass and getting fitter in the process. Their mentality is where the biggest change has occurred; there is a more conscious awareness of health and wellbeing,” he said.
As with any change, the CrossFit programme was met with scepticism from some members of the school. Erskine and Stangroom believe the way sessions are delivered emphasise the importance of safety and teach the participants skills they can take into everyday life.
Erskine said: “The main thing was the fact that students may be unsafe ‘lifting weights’, but they are taught how to move safely under minimal load so they are safer in the real world. The weights used in most lessons are less than the average school rucksack – but we show them how to move this weight in the correct way.”
Coach Stangroom says that the method of coaching at BSK is individualised for each participant, meaning that safety always comes first.
“At CFBSK, we pride ourselves on quality coaching, along with smart coaching. We know what works for some people and we know how to appropriately scale for others.”
The students of BSK are the real driving force behind the success of the programme and Erskine highlighted a number of CrossFitters who have been with the initiative from the very start: “We have had some students involved since the very beginning, and their enthusiasm has been infectious in getting others involved as well!”
The programme has proven so successful that Erskine, along with his former colleague Scott Fusco, have been flying around the world delivering seminars on the implementation of CrossFit in schools. The Aberdonian believes that replacing traditional fitness lessons with CrossFit can be of huge benefit to the students who take part. He says that a move away from traditional fitness equipment in school gyms is long overdue.
“It is a real shame that so many departments teach fitness using big bulky machines rather than have students understand how they can work their body in more functional ways. Take the machines away and use the space – it will be much more valuable! Move safer, move better, move faster.”
Now Head of PE at Haileybury Almaty School in Kazakhstan, Erskine hopes to replicate the work at BSK at his new school. He aims to involve the school’s staff as well as the students in his new role as Head of PE at Haileybury.
“We have redeveloped our fitness suite by removing all the treadmills and stationery bikes, and instead accessing the space for bodyweight movement. We have acquired some medicine balls, slam balls and gymnastics rings to add variety to our programme.
“Hopefully it will spread to our staff as well – offering expatriate staff another opportunity to bond in a non-work environment. That aspect was hugely successful at BSK, and I hope for the same in Haileybury Almaty. As Head of PE, you need to pitch the health and wellbeing of the staff as well as the students, so I hope the programme can access our teachers as well!”
“CrossFit has only enhanced the PE department and the curriculum at the British School of Kuwait!” Stangroom added.