Competitive team games for girls and boys in both government and independent schools are arranged on an interschool basis or, within schools, on an inter-house basis and graded according to age and ability. Competition has been confined to each sector (that is, state schools have played state schools, and independents their fellow independents). In Melbourne, state secondary-level interschool competition is zoned and is played on a round-robin basis on a dedicated weekday, rather than once a week. Most independent inter-school sport in Melbourne is played on Saturdays. Different levels of status are attached to particular sports. Historically the most prominent sports for girls have been hockey and netball, while Australian Rules football, cricket and rowing (particularly the Head of the River) have been most prominent for boys, and athletics, swimming and tennis for both boys and girls. Other important school sports include basketball, baseball and softball.
Sports played within schools generally form part of a wider annual inter-house competition for which memorial trophies and shields are awarded on speech nights or their equivalents, and interschool teams also compete for various challenge cups. Sporting prowess and school representation are recognised in many schools by the award of colours and braids, which are displayed on blazer pockets or head gear, with names in gold lettering being included on honour boards. Team photographs adorn school magazines, and leadership roles such as captaincy are much sought after. Traditionally school competitions have been closely aligned with amateurism in sport. The stock justification for the importance attached to sport in schools included the maxim mens sana in corpore sano - a healthy mind and a healthy body - and the idea that sport and 'playing the game' are character-building. Critics dismiss the prominence of school sport as breeding an athleticism cult, whereas proponents point to healthy rivalry and enhanced school spirit.