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  • Comments: 0
  • 10 September 2015 00:00
  • in Education
  • Visits: 790
  • Last Modified: 10 September 2015 05:35
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Developing character through Physical Education

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‘Every day the word "gift” is used to define talent, ability, and performance. Being gifted has an even deeper meaning, a meaning that isn’t always measured in points per game or win/loss records - it’s measured by heart, effort, and desire.’

Alan Cohen

Heart, effort and desire have been high on the education agenda for a while. Interest in mindset theory has never been higher. And even the government is getting in on the act, with funding announced for rugby coaches to build character and resilience in pupils.

I learned two important things from speaking to Dr Rachel Sandford about character:

1. Grit, resilience, problem solving aren’t things that develop automatically through sport. They need to be explicitly encouraged and transferred across the curriculum.

2. Engagement is king. If pupils don’t care about the sport they’re doing they develop less from it.

Think flexibly for physical literacy

Most would agree that sport can be a great forum for building teamwork, resilience and confidence. 

The problem is that competitive sport works best for those at the top. Why bother engaging if you’re playing others twice as good as you? The very nature of competitive sports is that they exclude those not interested in competing.  

For practitioners it’s long been recognised that sport doesn’t need to be competitive. Grit and resilience aren’t only built on the rugby field. Trekking or adventure activities, for instance, value teamwork, collaboration and problem solving more than individual achievement. This is a bigger draw for those who couldn’t care less about being the best.

Why does this matter? Because…

Engagement is crucial

In projects run at Loughborough University the young people that developed the most were the ones who cared the most. 

This makes a lot of sense. If we think about problem solving skills in tennis, I might improve my shot a few different ways. I might alter my stance. I could shift my grip on the racket, or the strength with which I hit the ball. I could follow through more, or work on positioning. Then I’d need to practise and practise so that the solution becomes routine. But – and this is the kicker – I’d probably need a reasonable degree of interest in tennis and my own capacity to improve to bother in the first place. It would take enthusiasm, curiosity – and yes, a fair bit of grit.

Why try to get it right

If you teach physical education in the first place you probably believe in the importance of a rounded education. We all know that getting pupils moving can influence long-term health outcomes, increase concentration in lessons and have a positive impact on mental health.

But it’s not easy. As Rachel suggested, sport has all the right ingredients for building positive habits in our pupils. Sports are social, present complex situations, can be demanding both mentally and physically. 

Just those ingredients, though, aren’t enough. You need links across the curriculum, so that the lessons taught in a PE session extend into other subjects and beyond the school. You need to think about what works for each individual pupil. You need to plan not just for lessons, but for development and learning. 

It’s not an easy task, but many schools are already doing it fantastically well. Come along to PE & School Sports 2015 to hear from them, and from Dr Rachel Sandford in person.

Visit to find out more

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