Why Sport Education?

“Why Sport Education?” This was a question I was asked this week by a visitor on work experience. It’s a good question. 10 years ago when a colleague and I brought the model into our curriculum I’m not sure I could have given a proper coherent answer. We were tasked by our line manager to ‘re-engage the disengaged’.  Sport Education was something we both had vague recollections of from our initial teacher training that was a different approach to teaching sport in PE. We thought we would give it ago and see what happened.

It was a complete disaster. On reflection it was because we as teachers didn’t have a clear idea about it’s purpose in our curriculum. Therefore neither did the children. I spent my first experience of Sport Education constantly fighting fires. Dealing with poor attitudes, behaviours and a complete lack of any learning or progress. Almost a step backwards. We certainly didn’t meet our target of motivating those children who were no doubt marginalised by our traditional curriculum. We were told to give up our experiment with Sport Education, but both of us felt there was something in there that could provide a positive experience of sport. We persisted and came back with a clearer purpose the following year.

At that time my school was going through it’s ‘Building Learning Power‘ phase. We were encouraged to link parts of our curriculum to teaching resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness and reciprocity. My colleague felt we could build Sport Education’s purpose around reciprocity:

  • Interdependence – knowing when it’s appropriate to learn on your own or with others, and being able to put your view across in team discussions.
  • Collaboration – the skills of learning with others. Respecting and recognising other points of view. Adding to and drawing from the strength of teams.
  • Empathy and Listening – contributing to others’ experiences by listening to them to understand what they are really saying, and putting yourself in their shoes.
  • Imitation – constructively adopting methods of learning, picking up habits and values from other people whom you observe.

Whilst I had my concerns about Building Learning Power as a whole school approach, I agreed this would give the Sport Education Model and our teaching of it much more of a focus. We clearly set these objectives out at the beginning of the following year, defining the learning outcomes around responsible personal and social behaviour that respects others in a movement context. It was a very different experience to the previous year. Whilst there were still issues, these actually became a focal point for teaching and learning. We ran ‘master classes’ where we tried to explicitly teach the four key areas, then allowed the children to put it into practice. We even brought in external coaches and speakers to run them, one example being the 1st XV Captain of a local rugby club.

As each year went by we became more experienced with the model. It was constantly tweaked, modified and refined. There was a change of those in charge of the school and Building Learning Power was replaced by three core school values, of which leadership was one. Once again we shaped Sport Education around this, continuing to place a emphasis on social skills within a physical activity setting, but also adding a focus on making organisational decisions and learning to take on the roles of responsibility with sport (referee, coach, manager etc.). We built learning in Sport Education around conversations and doing. Essentially focusing on a ongoing learning conversation between action and speech, but still room for direct instruction, teacher demonstrations and feedback if and when needed. Our current approach is a very different beast to the one we tried to implement 10 years ago.

Why Sport Education? To teach the social skills needed to support and encourage others to move? To provide opportunities to children to take responsibility and make decisions about their own and others movement? To learn to work as part of a team in a movement context? Yes to all three and probably more. However this isn’t the main why for me. A conversation a few years ago with a parent has provided me with a very clear why. I bumped into this parent of a Year 10 boy whilst shopping at Waitrose. She told me they weren’t a ‘sporty’ family and had never really encouraged participation in sport as they hadn’t had great experiences of it themselves when young. Her son had come home one night and asked out of the blue to be taken to their local volleyball club. He had been going for a few months and was really enjoying himself. I asked what had brought about this change. The answer was Sport Education. At 15 years old it was his first experience of what sport could provide; competition, fixtures, training, celebrations, friendships, a positive atmosphere, working towards something more than just technical development, but most importantly for her son the affiliation with an ongoing team over an extended period of time. All the things that have kept me involved in sport for almost 30 years.

Daryl Siedentop, the creator of the Sport Education model, argues that in PE ‘the rituals, values, and traditions of sport that give it meaning are seldom ever mentioned, let alone taught in ways that students can experience them‘. If sport, as an accepted form of physical play, is a valued part of society, then it is our responsibility to find ways of teaching it that allow children to experience all it has to offer. Some children’s experience of sport will only ever be in the PE. If sport, particularly gendered team sports, have a place in our curriculum then we need to ensure that we provide an experience of the full features of what sport has to offer, rather then just some distilled decontextualised parody of it. That’s my ‘why’ for Sport Education. What’s yours?


 Sport Education: physical education for the new millennium? by Wallhead and O’Sullivan

A review of research on Sport Education: 2004 to the present By Hastie et al

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6 thoughts on “Why Sport Education?

    1. Yes. They don’t come that often. I think much of the impact we have (either positive or negative) is hidden from us, only to appear in the future after they have left. The small glimpses that I have got have either helped to reaffirm my path, or have made me question the direction I have been taken. I wish we got more information like this as it can be very beneficial in improving our teaching.

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      1. The only point I could think of is a end of year survey with each pupil. Asking when, what (possibly with whom) they feel they made significant improvements in learning. What was the most important/least important aspect they experienced?

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  1. Sport Ed is great for the collaboration piece which is something I see my students grow with in each season we play. But it’s getting them to understand how to peacefully and even diplomatically collaborate without major disagreements.

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    1. The question I have is do we allow experience to provide that opportunity or do we need to teach our pupils explicit strategies to use (in advance) that apply if and when those situations arise?

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