Getting sports and physical education right

One question I am often asked is “given we are a country of a billion people, save for cricket, how is it that we struggle to produce world champions and Olympic medallists more consistently?” Some go on to probe further, asking whether there is a rise of a sporting culture in India with so many new sports leagues & events and the increase in awareness of sports and the benefits of being fit.

While it is true that we have the world’s second largest population, that alone does not allow for a sporting culture to prevail in the country. For too long, the culture of sports in India has been one of using sports for other means – a failsafe mechanism for college admission, for a job, for a plot of land, etc. A practice of spotting talent early enough to nurture and grow it from strength to strength so that it delivers when it counts has never been in existence. We are not even talking of modern approaches to coaching, physical training, sports medicine, etc. Some of these issues are being addressed at various levels – but perhaps the momentum of these changes could be a lot faster and the changes themselves more effective. One other issue is that usually the rewards that come in are post the athlete’s achievements and not at the opportune time when the athlete requires the funding for training requirements.

But more fundamentally, to develop this culture of sports in India, we have to go back to our grass roots, to our schools, where our children are exposed to the concept of being physically active. Today, amongst adults beyond the age of 26, only 3% of people use sports or team sports to remain physically active! This is usually because many adults don’t know how to play sports or were not taught the right skills to pick up sports. Nurturing a sporting culture, requires us, as educationalists, as teachers and as parents to understand the benefits of being active, what being active actually means and encouraging the thought of being active as a natural extension of our lives. If we get this right, we can then be on a path of creating the next world champion.

Individual Equipment for each Kid

How is your physical education class structured?

So how is your physical education class structured? What is taught during PE? Is it one ball for 30 children with limited guidance? Do the children know what is being taught and why it is being taught? Are development of social skills integrated into the class? Too often a physical education class is unstructured, disorganized and lacks the understanding of the learning outcomes necessary to the development of the child. In a research paper that was published in 2011 by Dowda and Sallis, they have shown that with right intervention and physical education specialist, the amount of movement and physical activity in a PE class can increase by 18%, without increasing the frequency or the duration of the lesson. That begs the question – how much does your child move in the 30/40min PE class?

A recent study found that adopting an evidence-based physical education programme is hindered by the number and quality of physical education specialists, budget limitations and unwillingness to allocate time for physical education (Lounsbery, McKenzie, Trost, & Smith, 2011). This study was conducted in the US, however, the realities aren’t very far in the Indian education context. Barriers such as these directly hinder PE from playing a major role in contributing to educational goals, providing physical activity, and making a public health contribution. (McKenzie & Lounsbery, 2009).

To approach this correctly, requires a recognition and belief that good physical education has not only health benefits but also academic benefits as well. There is a whole body of research working on how to design and deliver a quality PE class. How can a simple activity like throwing and catching be broken down into small fragments so that a child learns these basic skills in an age-appropriate manner without being overwhelmed. How do you use different size balls (e.g. size 2,3,4) to allow a natural progression in learning dribbling skills in basketball?

Progression of Skill

Designing a curriculum and why it is important to map to standards

The goal of any research-based physical education program is to develop physically literate individuals who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of physical activity. To do this, the curriculum has to be designed in such a way as to ensure every child is taught skills in an age-appropriate manner to enable physical literacy. Questions one must ask are: Has the child learned the skills necessary to participate in a variety of physical activities? Does the child know the implications and the benefits of involvement in various types of physical activities? Does the child participate regularly in physical activity?

By mapping a curriculum to standards, you essentially test the efficacy of the outcomes of the programs. There are many standards that the curricula can be mapped to. At LeapStart we use the The National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) standards. Therefore, all our activities and classes tests whether a child :

  • Demonstrates competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.
  • Applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies and tactics related to movement and performance.
  • Demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.
  • Exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.
  • Recognizes the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression and/or social interaction

To integrate the above outcomes, the curriculum needs to be broken down to map each of the activities into learning outcomes. Each trained physical education specialist needs to understand what the objective of the class is and ensure concepts and learnings are reinforced at the end of each class. And finally, at the end of each unit/sport that is being taught, there needs to be a carefully designed rubrics-based assessment tool to objectively assess the progress of the child. Much like a ‘regular’ academic subject is taught with defined syllabus, books and assessed in schools, Physical Education should not be any different.

Choosing the right intervention program

Essentially the focus of any good physical education program should be on developing skills, as opposed to drills in children; beginning with the pre-school years all the way through to the 12th standard. A major downside to rapid urbanization is that while a couple of decades ago, children had access to open spaces such as playgrounds or parks, these are now places that are at a premium. For a sporting culture to develop in the country, sports and physical fitness have to be part of the overall curriculum followed in school from the youngest possible age.

What is needed is an intervention program that is research-driven to develop, instil and inculcate essential sporting activities needed for the holistic development of the child. The central idea is for the child to participate inan activity where he/she Hula Hooplearns a skill; that will stand them in good stead as they grow, more so, if they are desirous later on of
Hula Hoop pursuing the sport with even more dedication.

Equally important is that each and every child participates in the various skill development programmes – implying that there is equipment for everyone in the session and that children of all abilities are included in the class. We understand that innovative pedagogy combined with excellence in delivery will result in children excelling not just in academics but also in sports and together this will prepare them in facing life’s challenges. Because ultimately in sports, as in other facets of life, it is all about a test of character.

The public health goal of physical education is to prepare children for a lifetime of regular physical activity. This is not new but getting this right is a fundamental duty we have towards our children.

Dhruv Nagarkatti
CEO Leapstart

< This article was published in the April issue of the The Mentor>

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