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School Sport

‘Sports Day, 1926’ from King Edward’s School OE Gazette, April 1988

 

The tradition of the annual school Sports Day competition, familiar to many, is well-documented in the Foundation Archive.

However, today’s blog will consider a long-forgotten school sport, a form of exercise which existed before the advent of mainstream competitive sport in education – Swedish Drill.

Swedish Drill was a type of gymnastics invented in the 1800s by Pehr Henrik Ling, a Swedish fencing instructor. Ling’s goal was to promote exercise as a means of restoring public health and his mission was so successful that by the early 1900s most schools had a drill yard or hall.

 

Swedish Drill at KEVI Camp Hill School for Girls, undated. Image taken from the Camp Hill Old Girls’ Association Magazine, March 2012

 

Pupils at KEVI Handsworth School for Girls practising Swedish Drill in the gymnasium, undated. Photograph from the Foundation Archive

 

Photographs of Swedish Drill look shocking at first glance (are those children being punished?) but the exercise was essentially a series of gentle movements performed in response to the teacher’s calm instructions. The movements were slow, with an emphasis on balance and muscle control, not unlike Pilates. As students grew more proficient, the instructions progressed to more complicated postures or movements.

 

Manual of Swedish Drill, by George L. Melio, 1899. Credit: The Internet Archive

 

Pupils at KEHS warming up for Swedish Drill, undated. Photograph from the Foundation Archive

 

Drill, as it became known, grew in popularity with pupils competing for inter-house trophies and shields. At King Edward VI Handsworth School for Girls, the annual Sports Day was officially opened with a “display of Mass drill, which seemed to be enjoyed by the spectators and by the girls who took part.”

(The Beacon, Summer Term 1919).

 

Mass Drill at KEVI Handsworth School, undated. Photograph from the Foundation Archive

 

Given that Swedish Drill can be practised outdoors and at a distance, perhaps there’s an argument for re-introducing it as a school sport for the Covid-age?