Towards the Deep End

Do we teach for joy and delight? These words from Scott Kretchmar have been ringing in my head since I first heard them on Andy Vasily‘s podcast with him a few weeks ago.  Fun and Delight are two human experiences which can be realised through movement. To Kretchmar fun is a shallow and fleeting distraction, a way of overcoming boredom. Delight provides a deeper more memorable experience that keeps people coming back to movement. Rugby was both fun and delightful for me. Fun was what got me into rugby, but it was delight that kept me returning week in and week out for 25 years. Since hanging up my boots I have engaged in many other physical activities that I have found fun, but nothing that offers me the delight that rugby did. My search for it in something else remains elusive. As Kretchmar says delightful experiences of movement become part of the ongoing story of who we are, part of our identity. Am I a rugby player who no longer can play rugby?

Perhaps then it is the shallow stuff that gets us moving and the deep stuff keeps us moving throughout our lives. I see this through a swimming pool analogy (picture above). As a PE Teacher we are dealing with four different types of pupil.

  1. On the side – not willing to move or even have a go.
  2. In the shallow end – those who need support to develop their movement.
  3. Moving towards the deep end – those who are competent but need further challenge.
  4. In the deep end – those who have found delight in movement.

We don’t throw those on the side in at the deep end. We start them in the shallow end and build their competence and confidence through fun activities, games and practice. By developing their competence and their trust in us, we can then start to guide them out to deeper waters. Or maybe the child needs to take those steps themselves to find delight considering how personal that is? We can invite and open doors by providing tools and meaningful experiences but ultimately it is the child’s responsibility to move into the deeper stuff. However if we don’t show them what’s good about the deep end will they ever want to get competent and confident enough to take that next step? Fun is a great hook, but is it enough?

Kretchmar issues a challenge by stating that much of PE has been orientated near the shallow end. That if we taught for delight and joy, then everything else such as health, fitness, knowledge, motor competence etc will automatically happen as part of the package. A ‘two for one’ as he calls it. I think he may be right about the latter. However with regards to the shallow end, I don’t think that because much of PE is focused there is the issue. I think it’s because we overcomplicate the shallow stuff and by doing that we drown in the wrong end. If we make the shallow end worse than standing on the side and watching (1) why would anyone want to get in (2)? Play is a way into both the shallow and the deep end. Purposeful play that is supported by purposeful preparation and practice. I think that many competent adults never get past (3) in their lives because they forget how powerful play can be. They deconstruct and decontextualise movement into exercise which helps with their health and fitness. It becomes a chore but offers nothing flourishing, deeper or more delightful in their lives.

Trying to make meaningful movement experiences is something that has become central to my purpose of PE, but can we realistically get children towards the deep end of movement. Does our context limit our options? We are constrained by so many boundaries such as tradition, timetable, standards, assessment, facilities, money and accountability are we able to spend that limited time exploring something as ethereal as delight in movement? Perhaps pragmatically fun is the best we can hope for in the time we have with them. I can only see the transition from fun to delight through meaningful movement a slow one. It requires time, patience, guidance and repeated interactions, prompts and signposts from skilful and caring teachers. There are no shortcuts it seems to delightful movement, but perhaps we can open up the roads to this ‘kingdom’ for our pupils if the experiences we offer in PE consistently provides motor competence development, fun, challenge, social interaction and personally relevant learning.

Fun is seeking and delight is finding. As PE Teachers if we provide fun then children will start to seek. It is through seeking that we can teach them the tools that are needed to support finding their own personal delight in movement.

9 thoughts on “Towards the Deep End

  1. Great analogy!

    Love the way you strung all this together. Many important connections you made that many of us don’t typically see.

    And yes, as Kretchmar once said, perhaps, pragmatically speaking, fun is sometimes the best we can offer, given the constraints in PE. Unfortunately, “do no harm” may have to be our first principle (like “don’t talk about fight club” is the first rule of Fight Club)? Our hope is a move to deeper waters, but it’s important not to invalidate the shallows.

    Excellent article!!!!



  2. We are limited by more than just accountability measures. True delight and joy in movement is far too broad for a physical education class. If I could choose my activities it would be skiing, swimming, basketball, soccer, horseshoes, and baseball. I have students who would choose horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and hiking. Time, money and resources inhibit us. The best we can hope for is to make the activities we have as broad and appealing as possible. The damage we can do far outweighs the positives we can accomplish. Sometimes I think just having kids move and not create the negative association with it is a victory in and of itself.


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