The Joy of Kretchmar

“When movement is experienced as joy, it adorns our lives, makes our days go better, and gives us something to look forward to. When movement is joyful and meaningful, it may even inspire us to do things we never thought possible.” Scott Kretchmar

Each one of us who joins #Physed Twitter is in search of something. For one it may be resources, for another, it is new ideas. Some come seeking a community of practice they don’t have in their own school. Others are not sure what they are seeking for so tend to lurk, waiting in hope, that whatever it is will eventually appear. I came mainly for challenge and challenge I found. PE Teachers, teachers from other subjects, academics, coaches, coach developers, consultants and many others willing to challenge my thinking and to challenge my practice. However, without doubt, it is in the philosophical writings of Scott R. Kretchmar that I find the greatest of challenges.

 What to Do With Meaning? A Research Conundrum for the 21st Century critiques the current research paradigm of complex movement problems at an atomic level. Kretchmar argues that researchers have spent so much time looking for the underlying mechanisms of movement that they have ignored research on meaning, which he feels desperately needs to be conducted. In the pursuit of motivating habitually sedentary individuals to move everybody involved in solving that problem pays at least a ‘degree of lip service’ to making movement meaningful but has not stopped to figure out what that actually means or whether it matters. He offers a middle ground between scientific materialism and subjective experiences, perhaps one PE teachers should be open-minded to in our gymnasiums and sports halls.

Ten More Reasons for Quality Physical Education builds upon the common reasons given when advocating for physical education. Our subject is always in conflict due to a lack of consensus about its place within the curriculum and its role within a child’s education. This leads to a constant worry of irrelevancy and therefore trying to advocate its existence based on whatever might be the latest aim of the government or health and sports agencies. Guy Le Masurier and Charles Corbin in their paper provide 10 evidenced based reasons for physical education and ask is anything more important than good health? Kretchmar’s response is the add to the science with meaning and to make the profound point that physical activity doesn’t just make our lives longer, but also better.

The Increasing Utility of Elementary School Physical Education offers us ‘the two masters’ dilemma. Can a physical education curriculum serve both health and joy? Issues with alignment, achievement and ambiguity suggest that if we make everything a priority in our programmes then, in reality, nothing is. We fail to help the children in our care to improve their health through movement or find joy in movement. Kretchmar argues that we have to prioritise one over another and he sides with a joy over a health-based curriculum. If we aim for joy in movement in our goal, we gain health as a side effect. I find this argument appealing on an emotional level, but difficult to achieve on a practical one. What does a joy based curriculum even look like and how can we successfully implement it if it is possible?

Must We Have a Rational Answer to the Question: Why Does Man Play? In a world that demands evidence for our decisions and rationalising for our judgements, we have forgotten the value play has in our lives. We even research play to show what are the scientific benefits that physical play bring to the lives of both children and adults. We are suspicious of anything we can’t list the known benefits for. However, he reminds that play was one of the initiating forces behind the physical education profession. The riddle of why we play has no simple answer; “Man plays before we ask the question. He plays whilst continually ignoring the question. He plays in spite of known detrimental effects. Play and man seem bound with reason or without it.” Kretchmar challenges our diminishing of the importance of play in the curriculum by trying to reason its place in the first place.

Human Evolution, Movement, and Intelligence: Why Playing Games Counts as Smart offers us Kretchmar’s argument that creating, entering and playing games is a form of intelligence. I’ve often that that physical education’s pursuit of becoming more academic, for a multitude of reasons, fundamentally minimises its unique contribution to a child’s education. I’ve deliberately positioned the subject I teach as non-academic, to ensure my decisions and judgements aren’t guided by qualifications and exam results. However, Kretchmar offers a number of alternative ways to see the intelligence in skilful movement from evolutionary, procedural knowledge and meaning-making perspectives. The latter being his favourite, seeing sport as a place where we can share our personal stories non-verbally and are free to explore and develop ourselves at a deeper level.

Kretchmar’s writing is a challenge. A challenge to see physical activity, sport and other forms of movement from a different frame of reference to the medical model. It challenges not just our teaching, but the foundations on which they are built on; the purpose and principles of physical education. He challenges us to seek joy over health, meaning over utility and play over duty. Instead of maximising potential and physical capacity he challenges us to engage in a slow dance with meaning and to open up kingdoms of play. He challenges us to move from a mode of doing, to a Way of Being. Perhaps these challenges are a distraction to what the real job of teaching physical education entails? Maybe finding joy and meaning through PE is an impossible challenge? However, our current practices aren’t solving the puzzle of ensuring lifelong movement in the modern world so perhaps we need to embrace a more meaningful approach. I’m sure Kretchmar would agree we might find joy in that challenge.

2 thoughts on “The Joy of Kretchmar

  1. Thanks for the excellent post and for bringing attention (or at least more attention) to Kretchmar’s work. It is really clear from reading your posts that you look to his work a lot to inform and apply in your practice and understanding of practice — and of PE. As well as his relevant and resonant ideas, I really enjoy the depth and density of his work. Every time I read one of his papers I find something I overlooked previously or that I thought I had grasped but likely had not. A common statement in our research team conversations is “I think we had better go back to Kretchmar” — I think that is what is called a touchstone?
    Are there any new parts of his work that you are working with at the moment?
    Thanks again: really enjoyed reading!


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