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.
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.
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).
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?