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15.02.2018 - Ausgabe: 1/2018

Schoolyards as spaces for movement A plea for the intelligent threefold use of schoolyards in the context of increasing competition for land

By Oliver Seeck, Director of Studies of the Apostelgymnasium in Köln (Cologne)


According to a serious demographic outlook, in the city of Cologne a population growth of approximately 200,000 people, which corresponds to a growth of approximately 20% of the current population size, is to be expected within the next 20 years. In this context, the city has to face an enormous challenge because this means that approximately 40 new schools will have to be built. However, due to the steadily increasing competition for land, this building plan will thus reach new dimensions in terms of the exhaustible resources of available urban areas.

Therefore, it is very important both to take up a position for movement and sports and to begin, already now, to look for intelligent and efficient solutions. Hence, we will have to identify best practice solutions in the current planning activity, because otherwise each wasted opportunity will finally result in less space for movement.


Current trends and developments

Nowadays, sports clubs do not only compete with each other in terms of sporting performance. In particular, they also compete with one another for the limited number of available sports halls, a fact which, inter alia, results in less training times. In addition to that, the trend towards individualisation continues and hence represents exactly the opposite of the social and binding aspects related to sports clubs. However, people come together in manifold ways when they are doing sports. Thus, the question is how to convince those athletically active citizens who meet at particular movement spaces of the advantages of sports clubs and to integrate them into the structure of associations.

Also in terms of school sports, growing challenges will have to be tackled. Apart from the health-promoting aspect, for instance due to the growth in obesity, the struggle against the general lack of exercise among children and youngsters is becoming increasingly difficult. The resulting bad posture and the respective devastating impacts could only be fought through well designed sports concepts at schools. It is thus indisputable that posture instructions, power sports and the respective muscle toning are indispensable prerequisites for school sports and, in addition, for any other athletic discipline. This is how the general basis for a positive body awareness and life-long movability is created. Cancelled sports lessons are in themselves already scandalous and should not be increased by inappropriate sports equipment.


The magic conflict-triangle?!....

Apparently, the three fields of conflict of interests, namely leisure time, club sports and school sports, seem to be incompatible, because at first sight, due to the competitive situation, it does not seem possible that all three areas could benefit equally from an inclusive sports infrastructure.

Thus, it is certainly a good idea to resolve this tension by an intelligent solution. A common movement space, on the basis of a farsighted concept, would provide optimum conditions to do so. While in the morning to early afternoon the common movement area could be used as a schoolyard and school sports area, afterwards it could be made available for sports club athletes.

Apart from the aspect of reduced spatial resources, this solution which has the threefold advantage to serve throughout the whole day for school sports, clubs and hobby athletes, is definitely an efficient and worthwhile investment, particularly with regard to the municipal budget. At the same time, this movement space will also serve as a sporty meeting point, which could make it easier to change between leisure time and club commitment and hence provides many opportunities for the regional clubs.


Have courage

New modern schoolyards are often exposed to the current situation of increasing vandalism. Apart from the fact that this applies to all public playgrounds which are fortunately accessible for everybody, in particular all recently created movement spaces should consider stronger social controls, already during the planning phase of the concept design. As previous experiences show, an area which is strongly frequented tends to be particularly focused. However, if social supervision is promoted, it will be less affected by damage and vandalism. The international Trade Fair for Amenity Areas, Sports and Pool Facilities -  FSB -  which took place in Cologne in November 2017, has impressively shown that there are already many devices available which have been especially developed for this purpose.


Framework conditions

The municipality as the contracting authority regarding the purchase of new devices, has to ensure that the legal and safety-relevant standards (insurance coverage, obligatory supervision, etc.) are complied with. Here again, those playgrounds which are accessible even outside closing times and which have always allowed playing in great heights on suitably equipped devices serve as good examples.

However, when new movement spaces are planned and the respective devices have to be selected, it is very important to allow the local clubs to contribute their views and ideas.

In addition, the guidelines concerning the so-called promotion of safety during sports lessons in the federal Land of North Rhine-Westphalia also consider to use them during sports lessons.

As laid down in the principles of the " bewegungsfreudige Schule” (physically active schools) *2, the sports equipment plays an important role regarding the development of sports lessons and should hence definitely be used during all school breaks. The invitation to movement and the promotion of an active school culture are thus obvious advantages. The a. m. standards besides provide support to school staff in legal matters regarding supervision.

There are many positive developments in the context of school sports which imply the integration of modern and target group-oriented sports and movement sectors whereas traditional sports fields, such as the apparatus gymnastics are just as important and should also be part of the overall concept. However, in every day school routine, my colleagues - in the true sense of the word - have to face obstacles. The flawless functioning of the devices which implies high maintenance efforts for the school authorities and the availability in all sports halls often lead to neglect the quantity and quality of sports lessons. In addition, the limited time during school sports implies the pragmatic consideration if the complex equipment is at all worthwhile.

All these problems could, however, be eliminated by providing a fixed installed equipment fleet on the schoolyard next door which would guarantee the effective usage of precious movement time.



Oliver Seeck, Cologne:

Director of Studies of the Apostelgymnasium Köln (Sports School North Rhine-Westphalia)

Sports Expert at the Centre for the Education of Schoolteachers in Cologne (Grammar and Comprehensive Schools)

Experienced Citizen and Member of the Sports Committee of the City of Cologne

Board Member of the Sports City of Cologne


Photo: Play-Parc Allwetter- Freizeitanlagenbau GmbH


[1] https://www.schulsport-nrw.de/sicherheits-und-gesundheitsfoerderung/erlass-sicherheitsfoerderung-im-schulsport.html (accessible online since 12.12.2017)


[1]  https://www.schulsport-nrw.de/schulsportentwicklung/bewegungsfreudige-schule.html (accessible online since 12.12.2017)

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