Another way?

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!

You should also check out Andy’s website – it includes a blog and much more!

AndyVAndy Vasily, May 26, 2015

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. J boys bball

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. J girls bball

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). mixed floor hockey

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.

Andy Vasily

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Thanks for sharing Andy!

A Sporting Chance

I have a problem.  Ok, I have lots of problems but I want to blog about this one…  You see, I want to love school sport and in fact for many years I did.  But my love light is flickering and is in danger of going out.  Before I really dive into this issue, let me share a few quick facts about me and my love.

I played school sport.

I coached countless school teams.

I have watched school sport positively change the lives of kids.

I have seen school sport re-ignite teachers’ passion for education.

Despite all the positive experiences I have had over the past 30 years, why does my taste for school sport seem to turning from sweet to bitter?  After a lot of thoughtful, pensive, pondering; a good deal of reading; hour upon hour of observation; several naps (seriously, naps are awesome); deliberate discussion with many friends and colleagues I have narrowed my reasoning down to three key issues.

#1. Participation Rates.  I spent many years coaching at the junior high (grades 7-9) level.  My last school had a population of about 400.  Because I was interested, I kept track of all the kids that played on all the teams we had.  Over the whole year, only 90 kids out of the 400 played at least one sport (many played more than one).

22.5% of the school population could access all the benefits of being part of school sport (sort of… more on this in the next issue).  But that also means that 77.5% of students had no involvement whatsoever with school sports.  Public education systems around the world are founded on the belief that a democracy requires informed and intelligent citizens.  Egerton Ryerson, one of the key advocates for public education in Canada, firmly believed that schooling should not be a class privilege and should be not only universal, but free (see – History of Public Education).

So why do we continue to commit school resources to something that can only benefit some of the students?  In the very thought provoking article The Case Against High School Sports, Amanda Ripley shares the example of Spelman College.  Spelman spent almost $1 million on athletics for 4% of the student body.  Given the fact that almost half of the incoming class in 2012 had some sort of chronic health issue that could be improved by exercise, the president made a change.  The $1 million dollars was re-directed in 2013 towards a campus wide health and fitness program to benefit all.  Intriguing.  Can we continue to justify only providing the benefits of school sport to less than 25% of our students?

#2. Elitism.  So.  You are one of the lucky ones – you make the school team.  Yay for you!  Life will now be blissful and wonderful as you develop your prowess and skills along with the other kids on your team.  Not so fast.  What I continue to see is that the best 5,6, 11, etc. kids are treated very differently than the rest.  They are given the bulk of the playing time and have the most opportunity to learn and develop in practice.  I suppose this is just an extension of the previous point.  We’ve already got rid of over 75% of the kids.  Why not winnow it down a little further?

Quite simply, we can’t afford this sort of elitism in a school sponsored “educational” sport experience (please note the very sarcastic nature of my finger quotes).  Public school is for all.  A year ago, the director of education in Canada’s largest school board wrote an editorial for the Star. In the article he argues for all the physical, psychological and social benefits to children from school sport.  I don’t disagree with these benefits, however, we must recognize that school sport misses a large number of kids. If we are going to continue to only provide sport for 25%, then at the very least, let’s stop the elitism there.  Segue to my next point.

#3. Winning first. I believe that this issue is actually at the heart of the problems with school sport (and perhaps community and club too).  School is about becoming an informed, engaged, educated citizen – now and for life.  Not about winning trophies and putting banners on the wall.  Don’t get me wrong, winning is not in itself a bad thing.  Pretty sure most of us would rather win than lose.  The problem lies in placing winning as the ultimate goal with all else, including player development and dignity, coming a distant second.

A short story and then I’ll wrap this up.  A few years ago I coached a junior high, junior basketball team.  I had 18 kids try out and 18 kids made the team.  We had a perfect season. 0-6.  Whaaaaaaaat?  The last game of the year, we lost 46-84.  My boys were jumping in the air, cheering, slapping each other on the back.  The other team was asking their coach, “Didn’t we win the game?”  Let me explain.  I had 18 grade 7 boys on my team who had never played on a basketball team before and some had never really played basketball at all.  As a team, our goals were to improve individual and team skills and essentially to be better by the end of the season.  Oh, and to grow to love the sport of basketball.

We were excited to “lose” our last game because we did not define our success individually or as a team by winning.  Here are the important stats of that final game.

  • we had our highest scoring game ever (previous record – 23 points)
  • we were not doubled by the other team
  • we kept the other team’s score below 100
  • every player scored at least one basket
  • one player who had never got on the scoresheet before not only scored a bucket – he FOULED someone!  For a kid who was scared to play defence, this was a big step!

The point is, we would have had a dismal season if we focused on winning.  Instead, we put development first and arranged our season goals around that concept.  Everyone played (line change!), everyone improved and everyone won.

So what should we do? Cut school sport all together?  Let club sports take over? Let high school sports die?

To be honest, I am not really sure what we should do.  I am, however, convinced that we need to do something different.  A re-imagining of school sport, if you will.

What if all kids received quality daily physical education that included true physical literacy foundations providing them with the foundation to pursue a variety of sport and physical activity?

What if late elementary and junior high kids ALL had opportunities to participate in sport clubs that would develop their skills and allow them to compete positively against others of the same level?

What if high school sport was a place that had opportunities for ANY student to play at the level they choose?

What if we made a commitment to place development ahead of winning at all levels of school sport?

I’m not ready to give up on school sport.  But as a society, our relationship with school sport needs to move from infatuation to love; patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not dishonorable and not self-seeking.

Let’s work together to find a way to give all kids in school a sporting chance.

(re-post of my guest post on the ParticipACTION Blog)

Track and Field Ramblings

trackshoes-smallI know.  My Canadian friends are thinking, “What the heck is he writing about Track and Field (T&F) in November for?”  Hey – it’s never to early to start planning your T&F or activity day for the Spring!  As well, my friend Mel (@mjhamada) and I recently had a wee Twitter flurry focused on alternate track and field events/days.  After our short exchange of ideas, we decided to collaborate on this blog post to highlight our perspectives and thoughts.  Take a read, tell us what you think and, most importantly, please contribute to the google doc we have started to share your ideas as well (link at the end of the article)!

Mel’s Ramblings! Recently I have heard a lot of comments online about how PE was very difficult and how rotten we are as a profession!  I have to say that in my High School life I adored running and so Track and Field was a joy to me as I could actually do well in something I really enjoyed.  Now, I know that PE and T&F aren’t everyone’s passion but I take from this that it is also important to respect that a T&F day should also be about allowing our athletic students a place to compete and see success. “What did you say Ms Hamada?”,  I hear you shout!

However, I also believe that we need to not exclude students who find T&F day (as well as other traditional sports days) a grind and who are ‘sick’ on these days to avoid having to participate. It is the participation and the fun that we want to ingrain in our students.  I love T&F days because they were fun for me! I will add here that I work in International schools and I haven’t had a school that has a zone or district carnival or T&F team, we just have our school carnival/day and no more.  This makes me think harder about the fun and participation of our students.

So it is important to find the middle ground.  Recently I have worked with different schools who have had varied philosophies on what should constitute these days and found that the winning formula should provide some time in the curriculum for learning about T&F concepts such as how to throw, jump and run and time to practice these with no pressure.    Maximum practice is the most important factor.  Try some of these ideas:

  • Long Jump – set up your students to jump across the pit on the side rather than the long end.  Set up stations, have 4-7 lines all jumping at the same time into the pit and then running around back to the line.  You get to see your students frequently and they get to jump a lot!  Set up tiered stations next – regular jump at one end of the pit and then add a cone 1.5m back from the sand; then add a small hurdle to promote the height of a jump (over length) then add the next line with a hurdle 1.5m back etc.  Students can then quickly get to their level and work at it and in a 60 min lesson you can have students jumping every 1 minute.  Set up student coaches to assist with visual feedback or use your fave app to assist you.

  • High Jump – use hurdles frequently in your HJ lessons to practice scissor jumps.  Set up hurdle stations and have students practice scissor jumps while waiting for the HJ bed.  Differentiate with mats, hurdles, HJ soft bars etc with lots of places for kids to practice and get maximum jumps.

  • Running – complete running drills for sprints with student pairs watching specific technique (eg. arm swing) so they can learn about correct technique and coach each other efficiently.  Set up mini relays or games for students that involve timing and sprinting for success, but limit competition.  Avoid too many block exercises or peers that can ‘watch’ or evaluate time or distance, make the emphasis fun!

Okay so coupled with these athletic pursuits, we have some fun activities thrown in for students who dislike T&F traditional events and who haven’t participated at all!  The T&F day schedule has been pretty full on with 4 sessions in the day and a lunch break.  Each Grade level had 4 sessions to complete the field activities offered: Long Jump and Shot put; Javelin; Discus;  High Jump.  The Track sessions had a separate schedule that ran all day and Field event participants went to the Track when required.  Our last school hosted: 100m, 200m, 400m, 1500m and 4 x 100m relays.  It was a struggle to get kids into the 1500m and I wondered if we were better off with 2 x 1500m, one for girls and one for boys to avoid the long waits!

I would love to see the alternative events in-between the field or during the field events.  We could then have the egg and spoon or water relay races on for Middle School while High School are completing another T&F activity and vice versa.  This would bring a nice blend to the day.  I am excited about implementing more of this at YIS this year and hope that our fun and participation values drive the day!  I am excited to hear of great alternative activities that we could do on our day to promote fun, friendly competition between Houses and generally improve this day for all concerned!

Doug’s Ramblings! I started teaching PE at a school that followed a very traditional program and T&F was run as a school wide meet.  When I took over as the male PE teacher there was actually a “passing of the starter gun” at the former PE teacher’s last meet (crazy eh!).  I started to keep stats on the T&F day the next year and realized that many kids skipped the day and many did minimal events (format was 2T and 1 F required or 2F and 1 T) or nothing at all.  Lots of sitting around, minimal activity etc.  Over my five years at that school, I slowly made a few changes but was still not really happy with how the day met student’s needs (or the PE curriculum).

When I moved to a new school I was again asked to take charge of the T&F day (which had been very traditional).  I decided to do something completely different and ran an activities based day in which the kids (grades 5-9) were mixed up into multi-grade level groups and moved throughout the day as a team to a variety of active living themed stations.  We did not do any traditional T&F events on that day although we did do them in PE class and invited anyone to join the inter-school team.  Over all I thought the day was successful but…

The next year, I taught a grade nine leadership class with a group of students that had now had a traditional TF day as well as my crazy new format.  I asked them (nuts, I know) what kind of day they would like.  They met and discussed things, I put in my two cents and objectives (essentially to have fun, learning, LOTS of activity) and we came up with a plan.  The students wanted to be able to move with their friends and choose from a variety of active living activities as well as traditional events.  But the TF “events” were not to be used to determine who went to Zone meets – that would happen separately, after school.

With the students taking the lead, our eventual T&F day looked like this: student’s chose from a menu of track, field and active living sessions (AL). Each student needed to get a stamp on their “passport” for a minimum numbers of events – no limit on how many you could choose.  My leadership students invented and ran the active living sessions, teachers ran the TF events and students were free to roam around with their friends and complete their passports in any order they wanted.  In the morning each student had to do a required 3/6 T events, 2/4 F events and 3/6 AL events. In the afternoon it was 2/4 T, 1/3 F and 2/4 AL.

The day was AWESOME! Lots of choice, lots of activity and lots of fun for all involved.  Very few behaviour issues due to the high level of autonomy and almost no absences that day.  Most importantly, the feedback from the students was amazing.  Those who wanted the athletic challenge could compete against themselves and their friends, those who wanted to take a more relaxed approach could do that all well – but all were active!

YOUR TURN! Please share what you have done for T&F days (or just activity days!) at your school.  These can be event descriptions, key resources, day overviews – whatever you like!

Click the link to share!

https://docs.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/document/d/1q5Cz881tMSDZGYsnH6fbXcODSVse9eW7rGnHhH9VpHM/edit?usp=sharing

Ol’ Yeller

20130304-194451.jpgOK – time for the first rant of my blogging career…  Why do we tolerate  / allow coaches (especially, but not exclusively, in school sport) to yell at youth?  Allow me to share the impetuses for my rant.

Exhibit#1: I was watching a junior high basketball game and the coach on the other team was a YELLER.  He YELLED (I am capitalizing to illustrate how frickin’ annoying YELLING is) at a lot of players through-out the game but one particular instance stands out for me.  One of the girls on his team was at least three feet taller than all the rest and as such was gathering in a substantial amount of rebounds.  Apparently, that was not quite good enough for the coach because he proceeded to YELL at her, “JUMP ALREADY! JUST JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! WHY WON’T YOU JUMP! AHH – WHY WON’T SHE JUMP?” The girl was obviously embarrassed, chagrined, uncomfortable, mortified, etc. but to her credit she kept smiling, albeit a little painfully.  Hmm, wonder how long she’ll stay in basketball…

Exhibit #2: A teenager I know tried out for, and made, the football team (for my non-North American friends I mean the kind with helmets) at his high school this year.  Despite an expressed interest and potential burgeoning love for a new sport – not to mention the fact that he is a bit of a beast and would do very well – he decided to not play for the team.  One of the main reasons was a coach who YELLED something very similar to the following, “WHAT THE F@$% WAS THAT? ONE MORE MISTAKE AND YOU ARE OUTA HERE! THERE IS NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES ON MY TEAM. GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME OR RIDE THE BENCH.”  Add this to a few racist slurs and I applaud this teenager’s decision not to play. Keep in mind that these words weren’t even directed at my teenage friend, but at another player on the field.

Let me make a few clarifications to the above exhibits and then close with two main thoughts.  Although I was in attendance at the basketball game, the words above are in no way to be considered a direct quote – only my remembrance of a vivid event.  I do not know if he was a teacher as well as a coach at the school.   The words of the football coach are from the teenager’s perception and, in his mind, accurately portray at least the spirit of the exchanges that went on at practice.  This coach is a teacher at the school.  Ladies, lest you think you are off the hook, it just happens that these two recent exhibits are men – ladies can be YELLERS too!

Thought #1: Does it strike anyone else as odd that while we would we never condone a teacher YELLING at our kids in a classroom, for some reason it becomes accepted in a gym / field setting?  “THAT’S A F@#&ING MULTIPLICATION SIGN NOT DIVISION! DROP AND GIVE ME 20 YOU MISERABLE EXCUSE FOR A MATH STUDENT!”. Weird.  Stupid.  Simply put, yelling (see, I stopped, it is that easy) does not work.  Yelling does not inspire performance.  Yelling does not show that we care. Yelling does not develop skill. Yelling does not build up our youth. Stop. Please.

Thought #2: So far, whenever I have shared the football story, people say, “Oh, but that is just the way football is.”  Really?  Football can operate in no other way than by demeaning and belittling youth with public humiliation and slander (@lifeisathletic – I’d love your thoughts here!)?  What a crock!  I love contact sports but can think of no reason why this mentality has to be the culture of football, rugby, hockey etc.  I know plenty of coaches in these types of sports who are very effective without being an Ol’ Yeller. Please, save the yelling for cheers and praise.

Waiting to be moved by your responses (but leave the megaphone at home…).