This guest post is a direct result of a Twitter conversation about school sport opportunities. We were discussing re-imagining school sport and Steve Friesen reminded us of the value that intramural sport can provide. So,… More
Twice in the past few years, I have had to develop and refine a teaching philosophy statement (required for a tenure application and an award nomination). I struggled a bit with trying to define how and why I teach the way I do. However, I very much enjoyed the struggle and feel it is an important process for educators to go through. For what it’s worth – I thought I’d share my final product with you!
I have always believed in the importance of physical education (PE). Movement and physical activity have been an integral part of my own life since I was a child. As I grew up, went to school, tried to figure out my life and eventually settled on a career in education, PE was always at the forefront. The year 2017 marks my 24th year in the field and after nine career “adjustments” over this time span (new positions, new schools, new degrees), two constants have emerged: PE and working with children and youth. Over the length of my career, I have developed a fundamental belief in the absolute, critical, elemental, life changing and life giving need for human movement. This belief guides my teaching and provides the foundation of how I choose to support pre-service teachers in their journey towards becoming teachers of PE. As well, my philosophy of teaching is rooted in my own experiences as a K-12 teacher. I pride myself on being a teacher first and have had a very diverse career. My practice in K-12 education has ranged far and wide including: a school in Peru, a Hutterite Colony in Southern Alberta, several different schools in Alberta and a school for disadvantaged children in Ecuador. These experiences have enabled me to grow and develop as an educator, refine my management and assessment skills, gain valuable insight into the social and cultural influences affecting students, families and communities and finally, helped to define my identity as a teacher. Throughout those experiences, I can see the threads of joyful, essential movement being woven into the fabric of my teaching identity. Those threads also form the basis of my relationships with students and encourage me to meet students where they are. The following quote is from an email a parent sent to me in 2002 (the name has been changed):
Thanks for making PE fun and enjoyable for Katie this year. She always comes home with good comments about gym and I am thankful, because PE was not my favourite subject. In those days, you were ridiculed if you couldn’t do the skill well. I have many scars from that experience and so I appreciate your approach. You have taught Katie the importance of trying and not to be afraid of failing. Thank you!
I share this email because it speaks to the creation of a safe learning environment, where students feel free to challenge themselves and support those around them to do the same. Sometimes PE can be a scary place – everything you do, including your body itself, can be seen to be on display. As I did in my K-12 teaching, I also strive to create a PE culture with my university students that is inclusive, safe, caring and joyful. Finally, my teaching philosophy draws heavily on John Dewey’s theories of experience and education. I base the nature of my classes at the University of Alberta, undergraduate and graduate, on this premise:
“Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other. For some experiences are mis-educative. Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience. An experience may be such as to engender callousness; it may produce lack of sensitivity and of responsiveness. Then the possibilities of having richer experience in the future are restricted” (Dewey, 1938, p. 25-26).
In every class I teach, we dig into past experience and strive to learn from both the educative and mis-educative. My students come to PE with their own individual experiences and contexts. We take the time to explore their past as it impacts their teaching: present and future. We search for instances of joyful movement wherever they may be found and then we build on those experiences and extend them to our teaching and learning. As a teacher, I have engaged in this process as well and feel that my students reap the benefits of my own reflective practice. Therefore, I strive to ensure that each and every class I teach provides students with a truly educative experience enabling their growth, learning and understanding as pre-service teachers. Quite often, students will approach me and express their apprehension about taking a class on PE pedagogy. Their fears may be grounded in a negative experience, a misguided perception or a stereotype – it really doesn’t matter. My teaching philosophy allows me meet them where they are, provide joyful movement experiences and, help them establish an identity as a teacher of PE.
“I was really dreading the idea of having to teach PE. All of that changed this semester! The things you taught us were real life, things we can actually use and it was so much fun (so different from past classes)”
(Student letter, Winter 2014)
This is a guest blog I wrote for @meaningfulpe – check out LAMPE for more good content on meaningful (and purposeful!) #physed.
Part 1 of this blog series on delight and physical education raised the question, how might a physical education teacher lay ‘groundwork’ for delight (Kretchmar, 2005)? Before getting directly to some thoughts on that topic, let’s back up a bit and explore this notion of delightful or joyful movement just a little more.
I was fortunate to be boarding in the Rockies on a day where a foot of fresh powder had just fallen. As one of the first people up the lift, it was awesome to hear – from all across the mountain – spontaneous cries of joy from those revelling in the snow. We need this joyful movement! As Scott Kretchmar writes:
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 (2008)
Imagine the two kids (mine) in the picture at the beginning of this blog having the following conversation:
“So, I was thinking of increasing my cardiovascular fitness by paddling these buoyant tools in the ocean.” “Great! I’ll join you, I need to work on my core strength anyways.” “Yup – lookin’ to reduce my co-morbidity” “You got that right – I don’t wanna get diabetes.”
Bwahahahahahaha! I know it sounds funny to say it out loud, but this is often how we treat movement and physical education. The fact is, kids (and adults!) are motivated by joy and will work / play extremely hard to find it. As a bonus, they’ll also get health, social, and academic benefits – among others. If you want to see an example of this ethic in action, go visit a skate park. There you’ll see people finding joy in learning, intrinsic motivation at it’s best and not a trophy or rubric in sight!
As teachers of physical education, one of our main goals or purposes should be joyful or delightful movement. So how can we ‘look for’ this in our practice? Going back to Kretchmar (2008), he posits:
“Children are built to move; they want to move. Almost anything can be turned into a grand adventure—catching, throwing, running, touching, enjoying rhythmic activities, and discovering ‘fundamental movement concepts.’ A teacher who has a gift for make- believe can, without much difficulty, become something of a Pied Piper of movement. Delight, excitement, intrigue, and usually considerable noise permeate the physical education setting” (p. 166).
So, how do we ‘bring the skatepark to the gym’, so to speak? First of all, movement must be honoured, not just used (Kretchmar, 2000). We want to move past a utilitarian or functional approach to movement (which does have its place) and help students appreciate and experience learning as potential sources of joy/ delight. Examples include (Kretchmar, 2005):
From mechanically correct to expressive movement
From effective to inventive to creative movement
From movement as obligation to movement as part of your own story
From fear and avoidance to accepting and overcoming a challenge
From thinking to spontaneity
I believe that we can encourage these types of shifts by providing a rich learning environment for students to play in, creating a culture of honoured movement, reflecting on our own practice and, perhaps most importantly, having students reflect on their practice and journeys of joyful movement.
Look for sweaty, smiling faces.
Look for grim-faced determination followed by quiet satisfaction.
Look for meaningful social interaction.
Look for focus – the ‘tongue out of the side of the mouth’ kind.
Look for failure, then some more failure followed by overcoming a realistic challenge.
Look for joy.
Wrong. It feels wrong.
The following is the ‘non-edited for newspaper’ version of an OpEd that @Lauren_Sulz and @LouiseHumbert and I wrote for the Edmonton Journal’s Opinion Page. (Image to the right is from Active for Life – more good reading over there!)
The first time you get cut from a team sucks. The second time is probably no better, but many kids will not ever bother to try out again. And yes, we’ve heard the ‘…but Michael Jordan was cut from HIS high school team and look where he ended up.’ mantra. Regardless of your perspective, cutting kids from sports is controversial and we seem to be staring at each other across a chasm of:
“It builds character – kids these days need to toughen up.” “It’s life – not everyone makes the team.”
“Everyone has the right to play.” “It turns kids off of sport, for life.”
As professionals in physical education who have played and coached sport at a variety of levels, we wanted to take a closer look at the practices of de-selecting (cutting) kids in sport – particularly in school. Perhaps we could begin to bridge the chasm and find out how we can help coaches and kids – maybe even make a painful process less so. Since we also happen to be researchers, we designed a study to do so – go figure! We talked to young athletes who had been cut from a sports team in the past and their parents (52 one-on-one discussions) and surveyed coaches and athletic directors (1667 in total!). Our goals were to understand, from multiple perspectives, the experience of being cut and to find strategies that may ease the stress of this practice and encourage kids to keep playing.
In short, we found out some interesting stuff. First off, de-selection cuts deep. There are negative emotional, social and physical consequences. Athletes lose friends and are forced to find new social circles. They question their own identities and can feel lost and adrift. Perhaps quite obviously, their self-esteem is shaken. Time spent being physically active is reduced – not being on the team means no more practices and games. Cutting also deterred athletes from future participation in the same sport. As well, when no specific feedback was provided as to why athletes were cut there was a tendency to assume a low level of skill and a prediction of future failure. The same results happened when athletes were given feedback about things they can’t change like, ‘You’re too short’.
For coaches, regardless of the way cuts were communicated, our study found four factors that can improve the experience. Immediacy (don’t make them wait!), privacy (please don’t tell them in front of the whole group), encouragement (provide options for continuing to improve in the sport) and expectations (be clear up front about what you are looking for and the process of making the team). As well, the athletes themselves told us that the best way to help them cope with being cut is to provide clear reasons in a face-to-face meeting. In these meetings, coaches can keep things candid and up front by:
- Stating the outcome right away – don’t beat around the bush.
- Tell athletes why they were cut – specific, personal explanations.
- Provide actionable feedback – things athletes can actually improve.
- Write it up – eliminate miscommunication or misperceptions.
We shared these results on the Canadian Sport for Life blog (http://canadiansportforlife.ca/blog/easing-pain-cutting-kids-sport-are-there-best-practices-dr-lauren-sulz) and were blown away by the attention it garnered – over 10,000+ views of the page and counting. More significantly, we began to receive emails from people who took the time to share their experiences and stories with us:
From a coach (and parent):
“I appreciated your article, and it’s quite timely for me, I am faced with two sessions of cuts from a Pee Wee A Provincial hockey team, and not looking forward to it at all.”
After a detailed explanation of the hockey world, evaluation, coaching and communicating to parents, this reader finished with:
“Looks like I’ve worked through a lot of frustrations – you don’t even have to answer me, doc, I’ll do it for you: ‘In evaluating these young athletes, you tried your best, buddy, and that’s the most important thing. Don’t give up trying to get better, though.’ Thanks again for the article, I can say your interview and survey efforts will positively affect lots of 11 and 12 year olds this season!”
From a parent:
“I just read your article and I wanted to tell you about my son’s experience in tryouts. My son is 8 (that’s right, only 8) he was on a Tier 1 team. His team was really good and then after the season, they had tryouts for the next season. The tryouts were two 1-hour tryout sessions. At the end of the 2nd day, all of the players were called into a circle around the coaches. If you made one of the teams, your name was called and you were given a piece of paper to give to your parents to register you for the team. After all of the papers were given out, the rest were told they did not make a team. So my son and his teammates that made the team were all cheering wildly. A couple of boys from his team did not make the roster of the new team. They just sat there while the rest of their old teammates screamed with joy. This made me sick.”
The same parent went on to say,
“I wrote to you in part because I feel so powerless. I need to vent about this. I know that how the kids are being treated is wrong, but that if I complain my son could suffer consequences of being the son of a ‘trouble maker’. Please use my story and I hope that it can save some kids from experiencing what the kids trying out for my son’s team face.”
We are incredibly frustrated and saddened by the fact that 8 year olds, 11 year olds and others are being cut from teams each and every sport season. Come on Canada, we need to do better. We aren’t saying that there should never be cuts for some teams. There is a time and a place. But that time and place should not indicate an END of sport participation. It is obvious to us that the conversation around cutting kids in sport – especially at the developmental level – MUST continue. Canadian kids are less active and less healthy than ever before. Sport can provide quality physical, social and emotional experiences – learning skills and concepts that last a lifetime. Do we want more kids playing sports? If the answer is yes, then sport organizations at all levels need to examine their practices to ensure opportunities for as many kids as possible.
We’d love for you to contribute to the conversation at: Share Your Team Selection Experiences
If you want to hear a little more, listen to the recording from a local call-in radio show featuring this article . Thanks to @Albertaatnoon for having me on! Good chat.
Never fear, the next post in my physical literacy series is coming. SLOWLY, but coming.
For now, this YouTube video caught my eye and I wanted to say just a few words about it. Please watch – then read.
Novak Djokovic vs. Dylan Alcott – who is ‘more’ physically literate?
Before you answer the question, let me remind you of the definition of physical literacy:
“In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the life-course.” (Whitehead, 2010)
Got an answer? Before you share it, in all fairness I should let you know that the question is flawed. Sorry.
Key points from the definition: as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, maintaining purposeful physical pursuits, throughout the life-course.
Long story short? Physical literacy is a journey – not a destination. It is a winding path not a linear road. It is individualized, not standardized. Therefore, there is no need to worry about achieving some arbitrary endpoint or to make ridiculous comparisons about who is more physically literate than who. Go back to the video – see how Dylan has to help Novak operate his chair? Individual endowment. In another video of the same event Dylan drops this comment after Novak misses a few shots:
“…the movement is your weakness.”
Dylan’s endowment includes using a wheelchair to play tennis (and how!). Novak’s endowment includes using legs to play tennis. Different. Both demonstrate physical literacy. Note that I purposefully don’t say, “Both are physically literate.” That would indicate an end point. Remember: journey – winding – individual endowment.
Ramifications for physical education teachers? HUGE. I’ll leave you with these two thoughts from Margaret Whitehead:
“The uniqueness of physical education lies in its ability to enable each individual to realize, nurture and develop his [sic] embodied capabilities and thus become more fully human.” (Whitehead, 2013, p. 35, emphasis mine)
“Our mission or challenge is to DO ALL WE CAN to ENABLE ALL to make progress on their individual PHYSICAL LITERACY JOURNEY.” (Whitehead, 2013, caps and bold mine)
We join our hero as he realizes it has been over 3 months since his last post…
Speaking of Physical Literacy Part 3: An Introduction to Physical Literacy Praxis
Right. So suddenly it is 2016. MARCH 2016! I am not sure how so much time went by since my last post – oh wait, I know – life! Life got in the way. And work. Definitely work. Anywho…
What follows is a lead in to a rough framework that explores the implementation side of physical literacy. The post is loosely based on a talk I gave on October 22, 2015 at the Manitoba Physical Literacy Summit ‘Moving it Forward’. As well, I am working with an exceptional graduate student to design and implement a research project that will use a similar framework in high school physical education (more on that later!). Here goes.
If you recall, the last post in this series was about experiences and stories. So, please consider this story of an experience (brilliant segue, what?)…
PE, recess and lunch were always my favourite subjects in school. Perhaps it was a connection to my life running around on the farm but I found it tough to adjust to school and sedentary life. Opportunities to be active during the school day were not only my favourite times, they were critical to who I was as a person. My problem on this particular school day began with the excitement of heading to the local church basement for PE and ended with a frightening experience no grade two-er should have. I never forgot my PE clothes and shoes. NEVER. This day was no different. I had my shorts. I had my t-shirt. I had my shoes. As we were changing in the tiny bathroom of the church basement, however, I realized I had forgotten something. My regular underwear. I had neglected to put briefs on under my long johns…
EDITORS NOTE: for those from more southerly climes, long johns are full coverage thermal underwear and completely necessary for about 8 months of the year where I live. Thank you.
…and was therefore in a bit of a conundrum. I couldn’t wear my shorts with my long johns, I couldn’t wear my shorts without my regular underwear. I agonized about it until everyone else left the change room and decided to just head out in my jeans and t-shirt so no one would know of my problem. Surely the PE teacher would understand? As I headed over to try and quietly explain my embarrassing dilemma to the enormous ex-football player who was my teacher, he stopped everyone and singled me out. “Doug, you forgot your gym clothes! Come over here!” I sheepishly slunk over to the centre of the basement and was ready to explain my situation when suddenly I was swept off my feet, lifted high into the air and pinned against the ceiling. “Why do you not have your gym clothes?!?” Three quick, relevant facts. Number one, there was no way I was explaining myself in front of the whole class. Number two, I could barely keep myself from peeing my pants, much less actually talk. Number three, I stutter badly when forced to respond verbally under pressure. Therefore, I said nothing except for a few stuttered grunts. After a little more uplifted condemnation fornot being changed, I was forced to sit out for the rest of the class. Although I kept a brave face for my friends, (“That was so cool how he lifted me up so high”) inside I was embarrassed, frustrated, mad and ultimately – helpless. (Gleddie & Schaefer, 2014, p. 9-10)
Now that you’ve read my story (thanks!) answer me this: Why would someone who underwent that sort of humiliation and embarassment go on to have a career in physical education? Why wouldn’t that experience have turned me off of physical education for life? John Dewey, the renowned education philosopher, would probably have answered the question somewhat like this:
Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other. For some experiences are mis-educative. Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience. (1938, p. 25)
I think that I had been ‘inoculated’ or ‘vaccinated’ with WAY too much educative experiences of movement and play to be turned off by one mis-educative experience – no matter how humiliating. Dewey went on to say that there are two key aspects to experience. The first is the immediate:
“Yes, this was good.” OR “No, this was not.”
The second aspect emerges when we consider the influence of the current experience on future experiences. Quite simply – I knew deep down in my soul that the one mis-educative experience with my long johns did not have the power to impact the future already set up by my countless educative experiences with movement and physical education. This idea is enormously important – now put it away for a moment and keep reading… Hopefully, you are already familiar with at least the definition of physical literacy if not the whole set of philosophical underpinnings (here’s a hint… It’s so much more than fundamental movement skills!). What I want to focus on, however, is physical literacy praxis. And no, I did not spell ‘practice’ wrong…
Etymology: From Ancient Greek πρᾶξις (prâxis, “action, activity, practice”)
Noun: praxis (plural praxes or praxises)
The practical application of any branch of learning.
(philosophy) The synthesis of theory and practice, without presuming the primacy of either. (en.wiktionary.org)
Love it! Take a closer look: the synthesis of theory and practice, without presuming the primacy of either. If you remember way back in the Travel Agents post, I quoted Margaret Whitehead as saying:
“Our mission or challenge is to do all we can to enable ALL to make progress on their individual physical literacy journey. (Whitehead, 2013)
This is PRAXIS! This is what physical educators can do with the theory! Or, as John Dewey put it,
“…upon them devolves the responsibility for instituting the conditions for the kind of present experience which has a favourable effect upon the future.” (Dewey, 1938, p. 50)
This is where my rough framework for physical literacy praxis fits in. Here is a visual to get you started.
We leave our hero as he realizes that this post is getting way too long… Hopefully, he doesn’t wait 3 months before the next one and leave us all hanging…
TO BE CONTINUED!
Speaking of Physical Literacy, Part 2: Becoming Travel Agents
In March 2015, Ever Active Schools hosted a Physical Literacy Summit in Calgary, Alberta. I was invited to close the Summit and chose the following title for my talk: Becoming Travel Agents for a Storied Physical Literacy Journey. I also revised and refined this keynote for another Summit hosted in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October 2015.
My purpose in choosing this title and topic was to bring together the life-course aspect of physical literacy with the concept of storied lives. Since we know that physical literacy is a journey, not a destination, I thought the metaphor of travel agent was appropriate. Travel agents facilitate key experiences and assist with the progress of our travels. However, no one comes back from a trip and shows you their itinerary – no way. They tell you stories. What follows here is a synopsis of how we might become travel agents for Canada’s children – helping them to build a storied physical literacy journey.
In the last post, I shared a definition of physical literacy. Today, I want to add the idea of moral purpose.
“A compelling and inclusive moral purpose steers a system, binds it together, and draws the best people to work in it” (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009, p. 76)
In other words, “Why do you do what you do?” I feel that for those of us who work with children and any form of physical activity – health, education, sport, recreation and home/family – physical literacy can be that moral purpose. Here are some quick examples of compatible goals/vision statements found within each of these sectors that can connect to a moral purpose of physical literacy. Although these examples are specifically from Manitoba (woot, woot – shout out!), I would be VERY surprised to find much difference in other regions.
- Health: “…to meet the health needs of individuals, families and their communities … A health system that promotes well-being…”
- Sport: “…a goal to advance the health, social and recreational benefits of sport and the overall performance of Manitoba athletes…”
- Education: “…ensure that children and youth have access to an array of educational opportunities to experience success to prepare them for lifelong learning and citizenship…”
- Recreation: “…enable Manitobans to fully develop their innate capabilities and creatively use their energies, while enriching their lives and improving their health and sense of well-being.”
- Home/Family: Hmmm… Would there be any parent that would disagree with the above values and goals for their child?
Margaret Whitehead expressed this very concept of a shared moral purpose at the International Physical Literacy Conference in Banff (2013).
Our mission or challenge is to do all we can to enable ALL to make progress on their individual physical literacy journey.
What if all areas touching on physical activity bought into and operationalized physical literacy? Powerful. Efficacious. Life changing.
Since we can’t MAKE someone physically literate, it becomes our mission to: Provide enriching and enhancing environments in which kids can have positive, educative experiences. What might this look like? To go back to Margaret Whitehead’s talk in Banff (2013) she shared the following about creating experiences to foster physical literacy:
- Rewarding and enjoyable – fostering motivation
- Positively effect self confidence and self-worth
- Enable progress and have success in a wide range of pursuits
- Empower decision making
- Enable appreciation of life-course physical activity
- Energize for proactive participation
Therefore, our roles, whether in education, sport, recreation, home/family or health, are to be travel agents for a storied physical literacy journey. Travel agents don’t send everyone to the same place! They take time to get to know you, your dreams, skills, passions, past experiences – then they craft an experience that meets YOUR needs. When you get back home, you don’t shares clinical, dry details of your trip. NO! You tell stories. Stories of risk, surprise, joy, learning and new experiences. If you need a refresher on the power of story – check this out.
I encourage you to become physical literacy travel agents to help kids (or adults!) take steps on their individual journeys. As you do so, remember:
It’s about relationships – take someone along – connect across sectors.
Where do we want kids to go? Where do THEY want to go? Choose destinations with the CLIENT’s needs at heart – not yours.
Explore and try new things… Nuff said.
Take (acceptable) risks!
Remember, it’s a life-long journey! The value is in the journey – not the destination.
Be a travel agent.
Do what’s best for kids.
Enable ALL to make progress on their PL journeys
LIVE Storied LIVES.
To order the shirt, go here (no % 4 me, just love the shirt!)
Over the past 9 months I have been privileged to be able to speak at a number of Physical Literacy ‘Summit’ type events across Canada. After reviewing my notes and doing some thinking about the many conversations with individuals very passionate about physical education and physical literacy, I have just realized that I have yet to write a blog post exclusively on physical literacy! I use and explore the term with my students. I speak about it. I tweet about it. I read about it. I am beginning to research it. I am incorporating it into a PE textbook. Guess it is time to blog about it! So here goes my first swing – a short three point introduction to the topic. I hope to have two more physical literacy posts ‘on deck’ (see what I did there?) to follow in December.
Firstly, let me just remind you (and myself) about the definition of physical literacy. We will dive into the ramifications of this definition later, just wanted to get it in your head again! Margaret Whitehead (2010) states:
“In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the life-course.”
Secondly, let me state that I am whole-heartedly, unequivocally, undeniably, explicitly, enthusiastically and for reals on board with the concept of physical literacy. I believe that we are standing on the threshold of a HUGE opportunity for physical education. Here’s why:
- Literacy is an expanding concept as shown by this United Nations definition from 2002, “Literacy is crucial to the acquisition, by every child, youth and adult, of essential life skills that enable them to address the challenges they can face in life, and represents an essential step in basic education, which is an indispensable means for effective participation in the societies and economies of the twenty-first century.” It is about time that the physical aspect of who we are is embraced instead of being divorced and downtrodden.
- Physical literacy as a concept includes a language and vocabulary that educators (and parents and kids) can understand. Most times when I explain it to educators unfamiliar with physical or movement education they go, “Oh! Well that makes sense!”. The connection with what we should be doing in physical education is rock solid and connects strongly with overall educational goals.
- We have an unprecedented opportunity (and momentum) for collaboration, cross-sector appeal/uptake between physical education, sport, recreation, family and community. If we do this right – everybody gains. Especially the children. Common, consistent messaging and practice!
- Physical literacy can help to remind us that physical education is a necessary, crucial, essential and vital part of a viable education system. It can also remind us that we must strive to be better. Better teachers. Better physical educators. Better motivators. Better learners. Better advocators.
Thirdly, this super-on-board status of mine does not mean that I have fears. Specifically I have two big ones: that physical literacy is interpreted and applied as no more than a bigger focus on Fundamental Motor (Movement) Skills and; that the concept somehow loses momentum and dies without accomplishing implementation and accountability change. More detail to come on these later…
That’s it for this introduction. The next two physical literacy focused posts will feature ‘Readers Digest’ version of two talks I have given recently at the aforementioned Summits:
- Physical Literacy Praxis: Moving from theory to practice (and back again!)
- Becoming Travel Agents for a Storied Physical Literacy Journey.
I recently became aware of two very different stories about children and physical activity. The first was a Facebook video of a young kid cruising around in a parkour gym. If you haven’t seen it – check it out – it is worth the 1:14 min. What a great place for kids to play, learn and move! Check out the movement skills of that boy! And, kudos to the wonderful instructor leading the class – love the clip with the kids jumping to a box and grabbing his feet for stability.
A couple days later and this story hits the inter-web: School district bans game of tag to ‘ensure physical, emotional safety of students’. (Spoiler alert: tag is now back at Mercer Island School District after the outcry – yay.). The rationale given by the communications director was:
“The Mercer Island School District and school teams have recently revisited expectations for student behavior to address student safety. This means while at play, especially during recess and unstructured time, students are expected to keep their hands to themselves. The rationale behind this is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students.
Let me go out on a limb here (properly harnessed in, of course) and let you know what probably happened.
Random kid: Julie pushed me.
Other random kid: Ryan pushed me.
Not so random Principal: That’s it – no tag for anyone! Everyone must keep their hands to themselves. In fact, why don’t you sit on your hands all recess for good measure (ok, that part might not have happened).
Unfortunately, over the last few years there has been no shortage of these type of events:
I could go on with even more, but I think you get my point.
From what I can tell, each of these “bans” springs from an incident or two where someone gets hurt (in the Toronto case it was a parent who got a concussion from being hit in the head with a soccer ball…). If this is the way we handle inappropriate behaviour in schools then would someone please answer these questions?
If a kid gets stuffed in a locker – do we ban all lockers from the school?
If a kid throws an eraser in class and hits another kid in the head (like my friend and I did to each other for most of grade 5…) – do we ban all erasers from the school?
If a group of kids is too rowdy when they work on problem solving in math class together – do we ban group work?
Why do school staff (and some parents) go for the kneejerk reaction and frickin’ ban everything? Why don’t they just do what they do in all these other cases and DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM. We have enough issues with children not moving enough, not engaging in free play and not interacting with each other enough without putting even more constraints on them…
If anything, we should have MORE active play and student interaction at recess – the Lord knows they spend enough time in front of screens not interacting. Hmmm, here’s an idea – how about MORE physical education classes taught by qualified, trained professionals who can help TEACH social skills and appropriate behaviours for playing together in and out of class. Booya (does anyone say that anymore?) – problem solved.
Carl Honore shares a story in his brilliant book (which you should buy), Under Pressure: Rescuing our children from the culture of hyper-parenting, from the Secret Garden nursery school in Eastern Scotland – the first outdoor nursery in Britain. A group of 3 year olds had spent the day in the woods; helped by the adult in charge, they built a fire to ward off the chill. Wee Magnus Macleod reached in with his bare hand and picked up a burning ember.
BAN fires! BAN bare hands! BAN outdoor nurseries! BAN three-year-olds!
Nope. Everyone stayed calm. Magnus’s wound healed. His mom kept him in the Secret Garden and also enrolled his younger brother. She said, “…the main thing is that Magnus is now very sensible about fire – he knows not to get too close to it. The truth is that there are risks in the world and that children benefit from being exposed to them within reason” (p. 240).
A couple months after “the incident”, Carl spent the day with the kids at Secret Garden. Guess what? It was cold. They gather material for a fire. Magnus volunteers to light it – using a Swedish firestarter (that has sparks up to 3,ooo degrees Celsius) and a piece of denim. He lights the fire successfuly and here is how the chapter ends:
A smile crawls across Magnus’s mud-streaked face.“ You have to be careful with fire,” he tells me, in an almost professorial tone. “But you don’t have to be afraid of it.” He trows another log on the flames and then whispers, as if to himself: “I’m not afraid of anything.” (p. 255)
Welcome to what is now the third installment of the “Youth Sport” series (I really need a better name for this…)! Post #1 addressed some issues with school sport. Post #2 was a look at winning vs. development. My friend, Andy Vasily (whom I have yet to meet in person!) replied to Post #2 and shared his son’s experience with a school sport league in China. I thought it was so cool, I asked him to expand it into a guest post. So, without further ado, here is Andy’s guest post!
When I read Doug’s blog post, I couldn’t have agreed more with the points that he had made. As a teacher and coach for the past twenty years, I have seen numerous examples of young people being turned off of sport because the attitude and environment in which they play the game is much too serious in nature. Whether it be overzealous coaches hell bent on creating winners at all costs or parents who simply push their kids much too hard, we have to be extremely careful about the expectations we are placing on young people in regards to competing in sport. Helping young people to understand the value of being physically active for life is essential as the research has conclusively shown, time and time again, the massive benefits it has in regards to their physical, social and psychological well-being. When they have a positive sporting experience, they are much more likely to remain active in sport and recreational pursuits for years to follow.
Building a supportive community around the concept of healthy competition not only lends itself to better engagement, but also emphasizes that every person involved in the sport experience can learn so much about what it truly means to be a part of a team. As important sport related physical skills are being developed and improved upon, the students also begin to understand that their self-worth and self-identity are NOT connected to winning or losing.
In certain cases, when there is too great an emphasis on winning, a young person’s self-confidence can be completely crushed in the face of failure, defeat, or being benched for not living up to the expectations of the coaches. Therefore, there must be another way to deliver the sport experience in a way that engages young people and encourages them to give it a go and be involved regardless of level of skill.
As I read Doug’s blog post, I immediately thought about a model of sport competition that has been running at my school in Nanjing, China for the last several years. The Nanjing International School belongs to the Chinese International School Sport Association (CISSA) which is essentially a league that is set up to give all students from grades 5-8 a chance to experience sport competition in which the emphasis is not on winning or losing, but playing the game for the pure joy of being involved in sport and to experience all of the benefits that come along with it.
Not only has my own son, Eli, been involved in CISSA sport, I have been lucky enough to coach several different teams over the years. As rewarding as it is for the students, it is equally rewarding for me, as a coach, to be involved in the CISSA experience. My good friend and colleague, Danny Clarke, our Athletic Director here at Nanjing International School sums it up perfectly below:
“CISSA is a Shanghai based organization with additional schools from surrounding cities such as Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing. It is for students in Grades 5 – 8 (Year 6 – 9, ages 10 – 13). The philosophy is highly inclusive and one that fits our school philosophy and the philosophy of our Athletics Program. What we find is that students sign up and participate in sports competitively that would never normally do so. By providing a competition in which no scores are ever recorded or displayed, no awards given and in which coaches are required to play all their players equally, it creates an environment in which the focus of success is inwards towards your own team and players and a supportive and non-judgmental culture is fostered.
Students support each other because they know that they all have a different level of experience in that sport and that winning and losing is not the most important thing. Of course the students know the result and are disappointed when they lose and happy when they win and this is part of sport. More importantly though, enjoying playing the sport, enjoying the improvement of self and of teammates is what it is about and I have witnessed it over and over again. The kids really enjoy this competition and I am convinced that, all of the students, whether they are the best athletes or the weakest, benefit from this experience. It also influences the coach and their coaching methods. They become more inclusive, supportive and focused more on improvement and less on results.
It is important to note that the CISSA model is not the be all and end all in sports competition. Offering a more competitive and selective program for students as they get older (for our school it is from age 13) is also important whilst hopefully still encouraging those students who are not selected for the more competitive teams to continue to participate through other recreational opportunities.”
I’m happy that Doug asked me to guest blog about the CISSA experience because I have truly seen firsthand how wonderful a model it is. My son comes home from every single tournament with loads of stories about how much fun he had. Not only has he bonded with other students on his own team, he has also made many friends with students from other schools (that he stays in touch with).
As a CISSA coach, we are required to referee the games and rarely do we ever have discipline problems or rough play as the very nature and culture of the league is one of friendly competition which makes the entire experience all that more special to the players. The CISSA model is perfect for those students who may not be athletically inclined as it gives them equal access to playing time. I’ve seen some student’s self-confidence sky rocket as a result of being involved in CISSA team sport and actually being able to participate equally in games along with their team mates.
Included in this blog post is our CISSA handbook which explains, in detail, all of the rules and regulations in the league. Should you be interested in reading the handbook, feel free to download it. If there is even the slightest of possibilities of setting up a league like this in your area or region, I highly recommend doing so as it completely changes the sporting experience for many kids who may not have the chance to play otherwise. I’d like to thank Doug for allowing me to guest blog and to share my thoughts about the CISSA model and the positive impact it has had at our school here in Nanjing, China.
Thanks for sharing Andy!
This post is the first of what I intend to be a bit of a series on youth sport and kind of picks up where A Sporting Chance left off. I want to chat briefly about winning vs. development in child and youth sport and share a wee epiphany with you. Although this has long been a topic close to my heart, I have been doing much more thinking and reading on the topic as preparation for the Re-Imagining School Sport pre-conference session that Vicki Harber (@vharber) and I planned for the #Banff2015 National HPE Conference. The day was full of great conversations and evidence to push some of the boundaries of what we know is good for kids in sport. As well, two recent articles on youth sport caught my attention this week and are worth the time for you to read them (now or later- it’s up to you).
Where the “elite” kids shouldn’t meet. Tim Keown, ESPN. All about the marketing and the myth of elite sport for preteens. “This is the age of the youth-sports industrial complex, where men make a living putting on tournaments for 7-year-olds, and parents subject their children to tryouts and pay good money for the right to enter into it.”
Playing youth sports about having fun, developing skills. Jason Gregor, The Edmonton Journal. This article is all about why a 9 year old hockey player quit playing spring hockey and the letter his dad wrote explaining the decision. “…as a nine-year-old, you have only played two shifts in the game, no matter how important that game is … it is time to have a talk with yourself and re-evaluate why we do this.”
Full disclosure: I am extremely biased on this topic and believe that there shouldn’t even be a debate. In my mind, if you are involved in child or youth sport in any way, shape or form (parent, coach, ref, etc.) and consider placing winning some banner, trophy or medal ahead of the development of individuals and teams – you should give your head a shake. Just thought you should know…
In this installment, I want to address the culture of “my kid is really good and therefore deserves to play much more so we can win”. Kinda what both of the previous two article’s address.
I once chatted with a parent who was bemoaning the fact that her daughter was playing the same amount as other kids on her team. She shared with me that, in addition to the $1,400 team fees that all the kids played, she was also spending $800/month on private training and weekend clinics (her daughter was playing U15 volleyball). In her mind, her daughter should be playing more because she was spending more on training and was “better” than the other girls. This got me thinking…
Let’s look at a professional sports franchise – often held up as the pinnacle of sport achievement. The Edmonton Oilers, not currently contending for Lord Stanley’s Cup (but things are looking up!), are such a team. According to http://www.hockey-reference.com, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made $6,000,000 last season and averaged 20:38 minutes a game. In contrast, Luke Gazdic made $800,000 and averaged 7:23 minutes. Hmmm… Here comes the epiphany – wait for it!
Since there are a certain number of people who want kids to play “just like the big leagues”, why don’t we model that? Since our kids DON’T get paid to play, what about if kids that PLAY MORE – PAY MORE! PLAY LESS – PAY LESS! We could have a sliding scale based on minutes / sets, etc. That way, those that want their kids to play more can pay for that privilege! Brilliant, eh?
Sounds odd but if you really want your team to focus on winning, wouldn’t this be the best way to go? (insert sarcastic emoticon here)
Of course I am being facetious, however, I am using this example to ask why we focus so much on winning in youth sport? Kids really don’t need to focus on winning – sure, anyone would rather win than lose BUT – their care does not last… There has been LOTS written about what kids value in sport – winning is not at the top of the list. Winning should not be a high stakes game for kids.
So. You GET PAID to play? Then playing time can differ.
If YOU PAY, then you should PLAY!
School sport, youth sport – anything that claims to be developmental and “for the kids” should be held accountable to actually follow through and be “for the kids”. Why the focus on banners, titles, trophies, winning as the main goal? I have yet to hear someone with a valid argument on why (in a “developmental system”) – please let me know if you do!
I could tell you more stories on this theme but I’d rather post this for now and then take a look in the pot I have stirred up…