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Chief Executive John Herriman

Going the extra mile with Greenhouse Sports

Charley Rogers speaks to Chief Executive of Greenhouse Sports, John Herriman, about motivation and aspiration, and how sport can engage pupils

Posted by Charley Rogers | September 18, 2017 | Sports & leisure

Upon first hearing about a thriving sports initiative for schools, the non-sporty amongst us (myself included) may think of being forced to run around a field for apparently no reason, or spending hours on a freezing hockey pitch praying for that final whistle.

But this programme is not just about physical education; London-based Greenhouse Sports is much more than its activities. It’s about encouraging self-confidence and ambition in young people, and providing opportunities for those that may not otherwise have them.  

So I sat down to chat with John to find out what schools are gaining from the initiative, and just how encouraging (and fun!) sport can actually be.

What work are you doing with academies to help promote sports and its benefits?

We have a school model, which we roll out across academies and LEA schools, although the majority of schools that we work with are academies, or are transitioning into academies.  

We’re looking at how sport can help young people re-engage in school, and with the education system. They play something that they find fun, and then they get their confidence, and they’re able to use that in wider aspects of school and social life. The school creates an opportunity for them to tap into their real potential so that they can build motivation and aspiration; sport is a fantastic tool for doing that, particularly in those communities where there might not already be that provision. We particularly focus on schools that are supporting disadvantaged or less advantaged kids, as we think that’s where the greatest need is, and where the greatest impact can be had.

We put in a full-time professional sports coach, who will work on one sport that the school chooses from the range that we offer. The coaches embed completely within the school, and the school makes a contribution to the cost of the programme, but it’s very heavily subsidised. Coaches work in partnership with the school and become part of their strategic plans for the future.

You refer on your website to STEP (social, thinking, emotional, physical) skills – what is the inspiration for this model?

The STEP method is home-grown. It’s a framework through which we can assess the impact the coaches are having, with a view to helping them to continue to improve the way they are supporting the development of young people. It’s born out of a lot of different models, such as sporting and educational development models, and these come together to make sense for our particular framework; one we can use consistently across all our schools.

How do you approach children who typically don’t enjoy sport?

You’ve got to make sport fun. It needs to be something that they feel they can build confidence through, that they’re engaged with, and that their friends are doing. But what we’ve also got is a fantastic role model, mentor, coach, within the school, someone who cares about them. And with that combination, you can do incredible things.  

But the sport is still just a vehicle; it’s about participation, and how to engage the young people in something motivational, to help them achieve incredible things both in sport, and more generally - a wider development.

Do you work closely with each of your schools?

It’s very much a partnership in terms of Greenhouse for schools. Because the coaches are integrated into the school’s sports strategy, and the school’s behaviour strategy, they can tune in to particular areas. We have a core Greenhouse offer, but there are also elements around the framework where we can tune in to specific needs within each school.

We’re also now in the process of trying to develop a kind of community across our schools, so we had our first Headteachers’ dinner last year, which was an opportunity for us to get everyone together – probably 35 headteachers – to talk over the success of the partnership between ourselves and the schools, while also helping them engage with each other, sharing best practice around sport, and the impact of sport in their schools.

What would you say are the largest benefits that you’ve seen within your programme?

You get some incredible stories from our impact on individual people, and there are extremes. It could be that a young person that was getting a lot of detentions isn’t getting detention anymore, because they’ve been engaged through the sport, their behaviour has improved, and therefore they’re doing better overall.

We had an instance where a Year 7 got engaged in table tennis, which he’d never played before. His coach was a former England #1 international player - a fantastic sportsman, a fantastic mentor - and that young person had a natural ability at table tennis, which the coach could work with.

That young person gained confidence through table tennis, and went up the academic rankings incredibly quickly. The additional step is the confidence through sport, and a strong partnership with the school.

Do you have any plans to expand Greenhouse?

Our main underlying principle is quality; we need to deliver the programme with high quality because we’re working with young people and we’re working within the education sector. So we will not compromise on that. We don’t want to grow too quickly, but we’re always looking for opportunities, and we’re going to grow by about 3 or 4 schools within London, probably by April next year. It’s very steady, incremental growth, because obviously we’ve got to make sure that the coaches in the schools are absolutely the right fit, and that the quality of the programme we put into the school supports the needs of the school, because that’s absolutely critical.

We’re also just about to open – in January – a new sports and innovation centre in Marylebone, in the centre of London, which will be a centre for sports coaching and leadership development for people who are working in the education sector, as well as sports coaching and leadership for the younger people on our programmes. That’s our immediate challenge which will take up the next year / 18 months.

For more information on Greenhouse Sports and their various programmes, visit  

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