Here are five articles related to physical activity or sport that have made me think, and question my own held beliefs and practices within PE lessons or youth sports coaching sessions:
The IOC clearly states its goal in this paper: to develop healthy, capable and resilient young athletes, while attaining widespread, inclusive, sustainable and enjoyable participation and success for all levels of individual athletic achievement. A goal I’m sure that most PE teachers and youth sports coaches would subscribe to, but they recognise the difficulties in achieving this. The general principles they recommend are sensible; view each child’s development individually, allow for a wider definition of sporting success that is centred on the whole athlete, commit to the psychological and social development of the child, make a commitment to promote health, safety and a healthy respect for others. Something to share with your coaches and discuss for sure.
Whilst If I had to choose between developing competency in my pupils or making my lessons more fun I would always choose the former. However I would always want to try and achieve both if I can, in the knowledge that if there isn’t a element of fun we could risk putting children off purposeful physical activity for life. Fun can be a huge motivator to pupils in our subject. We are always being asked (or told) to make our lessons or coaching sessions ‘more fun’, but fun can be such a vague term. My ‘fun’ can be very different than your ‘fun’. In this piece of research from the US, specifically with footballers, 81 elements were identified as being determinants of fun, but it clearly shows children concept of fun is multifaceted. However 11 discrete dimensions are identified: Being a Good Sport, Trying Hard, Positive Coaching, Learning and Improving, Game Time Support, Games, Practices, Team Friendships, Mental Bonuses, Team Rituals, and Swag. From a personal view it is good to see that competition, something that has been vilified in youth sport in the past, is one of the 81 elements that compose ‘fun’ in sport.
In PE it is always easy to motivate those pupils who either identify themselves as movers or sport, or who enjoy physical activity. The battle is always with those that don’t. In the past I have used guilt tactics to try and get them moving and engaged. Whilst it has had limited success in that lesson, it hasn’t had the desired affect over a longer period of time. This piece of research suggests that the use of guilt tactics to try and get teenagers physical active does not work and therefore is not a successful intervention. It also overwhelmingly found that pupils who felt obligated to be more active were less likely to embrace physical activity overall. They suggest that it is far better and more successful if we allow those more pupils choice and autonomy in their physical activity and that we try to make it ‘fun’, which leads us back to the previous piece of research.
This excellent article focuses on young children and challenges the notion of deliberate play which is described as activities engaged in during childhood that are inherently enjoyable and different from organized sport and adult-led practices. The authors do not disagree that deliberate play is useful, especially in building fun, enjoyment and engagement. However they feel that this approach is often misinterpreted and that allowing children to play without appropriate feedback, instruction or organization is unlikely to result in the learning (i.e., actual and perceived competence) required to ensure prolonged engagement. They promote the idea of deliberate preparation for lifelong participation in physical activity. This can be derived from a robust foundation of psychomotor skills and that, for pupils to learn these skills, quality programs using effective instruction must be provided. A joined up approach of letting them play with constraints along with a clear focus on improving physical skill competence seems to be a sensible approach for PE Teachers.
Physical activity and sport is shown to have positive benefits on children, but not all children have positive experiences of physical activity and sport. The author challenges the thinking behind early specialisation as a way of developing elite performers. Whilst he concedes there is no single, simple pathway leading to success in sport, we need to question promoting a general early specialisation approach, for every example of success of those who specialised early there is a counter-example. No doubt it can lead to great success in certain activities, the risks of early specialisation for the vast number of children involved surely outweighs the potential that it may unearth a superstar. As PE Teachers we need to be aware of these risks and try where possible to promote a multi-activities approach both in our curriculum and extra-curricular provision.