Conversations in Sport Education


The model of Sports Education was designed by Daryll Siedentop. He felt that sport in Physical Education had been ‘decontextualised’, meaning it had been reduced to a shopping list of skills and tactics that needed to be taught and learnt before the game could be experienced. Not only did this take the primary focus of context away from the game, but all that is associated with being involved in sport. With a solely skills based focus, pupils within PE never truly get to enjoy and appreciate the traditons, values and rituals that being involved within sport offers. It is this that is potentially one of the key drivers for people returning to particpate in sport.

Siedentop draws out 6 Primary Features that he felt characterised sport in general. These being seasons, affiliation, a formal schedule of competition, a culminating event, records and a festive atmosphere. Through the teacher situating the game inside the primary features of sport the learning is given a deeper meaning and context. Delivering games through Sport Education broadens the PE curriculum and changes the teachers approach and the experience the children have to that game. Whilst it offers many differences over a traditonal skills based teaching approach, the greatest for me personally is that it provides an opportunity for pupils to enagage in dialogue with the teacher and their peers.

We have implemented a Sport Education Model for both Irish Tag and 5 a side Football for 6 years now, and have refined it each year. To encourage conversations within Sport Education pupils need to have a clear understanding of the roles of responbility. This is intiated in the first lesson by the teacher asking the pupils essential questions such as:

  • What makes a good leader in sports teams?
  • What makes a good sports coach?
  • What makes a good official?

The questions can be discussed within their teams and then ideas shared with the whole class. Through this process an agreement can be reached which then sets the success criteria for these roles within the lesson. The answers can be challenged at anytime as we have have a debrief session with the whole group every lesson. It is in this intial session we try to set some rules for group talk which typifies a lesson in the Sport Education model. In the past I have allowed the class to come up with their own ground rules, or have implemented them myself. A variation of Exploratory Talk by Mercer et al (2004) Reasoning as a scientist: ways of helping children to use language to learn science works well in Sport Education as many of the group conversations are about solving problems that are occuring in the match or the opposition are asking them:

  1. The leader ensures all relelvant information is shared
  2. The leader ensures that all members of the team are invited to contribute to the discussion
  3. Any opinions and ideas are respected and considered
  4. Everyone is asked to make their reasons clear
  5. Challenges are made clear and negotiated. The leader has a key role to play in this
  6. The group seeks to reach agreement before taking a decision or acting
  7. If no agreement can be reached, the leader has the final say and all team members need to support the decision

During the lesson I step back and listen to the pupils conversations within their teams. I take notes and only step in if I feel a child is unsafe, if I think a dispute might boil over into something worse or to correct terminology that is wrong or being misused. This can obviously be difficult when pupils are in teams and talking compared to a structured whole class discussion, but it is important it is picked up and correct language is modelled, supported and encouraged where possible. It is in these group discussions that problems being faced are discussed and potential solutions agreed and acted upon.

Sport Education also can provide conversations between each of the pupils and the teacher about their role, immediatley after they have just finished performing it. Using the success criteria the pupils have agreed with, pupils can be engaged in a dialogue about their performance of the role, through self reflection and how they think they might improve. Targets for improvement can be set, which they can they then can implement into the next lesson as they will perform a role twice during a week, before moving onto the next role the following week.


Above is an example of the success criteria sheet for each of the roles within our model of Sport Education. As I observe and listen to the pupils take control  of their learning and games I make notes. These form the basis of my feedback sessions with each of the pupils. Take Chai for example. After he finished his coaching session we had a debrief. I intiate the conversation by asking him a question. The initial question asked should cause the pupil to think critically and hopefuly provide the teacher with some key information on how to support him.  I asked him what his aim for the session was and whether he felt it was successful. After carefully listening to his response I ask him to tell me the key technical points of passing. He was unable to tell me. We discussed the role of the coach and whether this should be something a coach should be aware of. We then discussed ideas how he could rectify that for the next session. The conversation should be on the task at hand, not about the pupils themselves. A focus around improving subject knowledge or performance is always essential, but if we can also guide them to solve problems they face or make sense of their experiences on top this is even better. Below is the success criteria for the following lesson. Chai clearly went away and found the key technical points for passing which he correctly communicated to his group.

Whilst Sport Education as a teaching method helps expand the context of the game to include the primary features of sport, I see one of its key values as providing an opportunity for a dialogue for learning. It helps me to find more about the indivdiual and also engages pupils in learning through interactive conversations. Obviously, in PE, doing is important and getting pupils active is a fundamental part of my teaching philosophy, but I think talk is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. It is where I believe PE as a subject can help support a pupils literacy development. The more we can get pupils to talk about physical activity and sport, the more they are thinking about it. By providing opportunities to talk as well as scaffolding, modelling and supporting that talk, the better they might be able to think about physical activity and sport in the future. We then hopefully provide them with not only the physical but the cognitive and social tools to engage in purposeful activity outside of the classroom.

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