Educate your child through sport
Do your children play sport?
Do your children play sport? If so, are you as a parent aware of how educative the experience can be for them, if only an adult would be present to identify educative experiences as they arise, and point out a few educational truths the child might focus on? If you’ve not thought about the educational values of sports participation, would you like to know the basics?
If so, read on.
SO, what’s the article about?
This article explains how an average parent who’s enjoyed taking part in sports can become a role model and coach or teacher to educate his or her youngster(s) through sporting and other physical activities.
Some people spend years studying physical education because they aim to offer it in formal schooling. Unfortunately, many others are cast into the task of coaching sports with only some dabbling in the activity or else a bit of personal experience to back them up.
Also, parents crowd the sidelines of sporting activities without knowing much about the educative opportunities their kids are experiencing. Yet these experiences can be enhanced by encouragement and interpretations provided by dad or mom. Even if given from the sidelines, it can have a sound impact on their learning. This article has been written for parents who have insight into sport, but who might not wish to engage with active coaching. Why not encourage your youngsters to take part in sports activities that afford enjoyment as well as valuable, wider educative experiences?
Of course, the better one knows a sport, especially by playing it, the easier it is to spot ‘educative moments’ that might benefit your child.
The example of our forebears
For millions of years, humankind led a more active lifestyle than we do today. In a sense, their hunting and collecting bands gave a central place to physical education, or more correctly, physical training.
When ‘ancient’ mom went out to gather roots and berries for food the girls and younger boys of a clan would accompany her on the forays. They would learn many things that were useful to their survival in an often harsh environment.
‘Ancient’ dad would set out with the older boys and male relatives to fish, or scavenge from carcases, secure some sort of local small game, or join forces in stalking and attacking a large beast. During these excursions the children learned about planning, tactics, skills, co-operation, courage and their own physical capacities and limitations. It was a fundamental source of knowledge.
These enterprises all took considerable energy to perform. They involved much ambling and tracking, and perhaps a few short bursts of speed or a lengthy pursuit over broken terrain. Muscles would be used for power and speed, and the cardio-vascular system would come into operation with a vengeance as the hunters engaged with their quarry, or indeed ran from it.
More recently during recorded history, traders, workmen, labourers, and the military all used their physical resources more than we generally do today. Physical prowess counted for much.
We’re a lazy lot
In modern times, especially in more developed countries, sport has largely replaced the other physical earlier demands, but in recent years it has been professionalised to the extent that it is a spectacle to be followed on television more than something to be engaged with.
The advent of technology has exacerbated the problems of sedentary behaviour. We live in an increasingly virtual world. The real world of concrete reality including physical threats, climate and physics has been allowed to slide into the recesses of consciousness, whereas in former times it intruded so strongly that its dominant presence occupied our brain with a vengeance. We simply had to take it into account in a most fundamental way. And indeed, because of the planning we had to embark on to survive within it, it helped to form the impressive frontal lobe humanity now possesses. But we have become increasingly protected from physical challenges and therefore even complacent.
Virtual reality doesn’t help
The intrusion of virtual reality into the ‘real world’ now threatens to confuse that which is real (ontic reality) and that which is illusory (virtual reality), to the extent that they become indistinguishable, a fact promoted by commercialisation and its marketing.
For many middle-class people our televisions, cell-phones and ipads are the here and now, while receding glaciers, increasing flab, poverty, crime and the demise of wild creatures are remote things to pay lip-service to as we get on with our immediate, comfortable sedentary preoccupations. Many in the First World are losing contact with demanding physical reality.
Losing respect for our bodies
This also means losing respect for our physical bodies. We have tended to hand them over to the care of medical science rather than to accept them as something needing personal maintenance as intrinsically ‘US’. So, many people make no effort whatsoever to keep themselves in good health, nor do they value the old capacities related to powerful, extensive, repetitive or skilled movement. These are often no longer seen as necessary.
These trends are a few of the reasons motivating perceptive, modern educationists to propagate a renewed focus on physical education in the formal schooling or tertiary context, or pursued informally through enhanced lifestyles. With a bit of understanding, you can participate.
Below I’ll outline some of the outcomes one seeks from a physical education programme. The objectives that follow seek to cultivate a sound mind in a healthy body. A return to these outcomes is needed desperately in my country South Africa, whose population is becoming increasingly flabby and physically unskilled.
Let’s start with a focus on the health of the body. Whether you deal with schooling curricula or an adult’s home lifestyle, you’ll first need to look at the efficient physiological function of the bodily systems if you want to enhance physical well-being. This means taking a ‘medical’ viewpoint that ensures freedom from disease and decrepitude, rather than a ‘functional’ viewpoint by means of which ‘physical work’ becomes the focus.
Good health can be achieved by engaging regularly and systematically with physical activities that will exercise the cardio-vascular system and musculature to get them working optimally, but also seeing to such things as bodily hygiene, dental hygiene, posture and diet. Your fifty trillion cells need to work reasonably in harmony; for that implies good health. Sport, especially such as require vigorous, total-body activity and the ingestion of oxygen, can help here.
Physical fitness implies the ‘functional’ ability of the body to produce ‘work’. It’s the sort of capacities a pentathlon participant or military marine works towards. It is built on a foundation of sound health, as discussed briefly above.
It implies engagement with systematised exercises directed to the achievement of greater strength, power, muscular endurance, cardiovascular stamina and suppleness. The body becomes more capable of running at a reasonable speed, lifting or carrying weights, throwing projectiles, running reasonably long distances and so on.
Next in the physical domain are skills. Traditionally in Western societies, these tend to relate to gross motor exercises, educational and competitive gymnastics, individual and team sports and outdoor pastimes that require co-ordinated, accurate or precise movements capable of repetition at a good standard of accuracy.
With small children we offer generalised movements unrelated specifically to sports or other traditional contexts. These can include jumping, climbing, walking, running, twisting, turning, landing, taking off, throwing, catching, hitting, pitching slinging, kicking and so on.
The intention there is to get the psycho-motor apparatus of muscles, bones, nerves and so on working smoothly to lay a foundation of varied movements on which refined skills can be built. Increasingly, they will be used in defined contexts such as athletics, dance, cricket, rock-climbing, diving or gymnastics.
All of these basic movements and more refined, specific skills depend on a smooth integration of muscle activity with brain functioning, using the ability of that organ to motivate, initiate, provide motor control, and adapt to varying circumstances. These skills usually help the individual to achieve a complex outcome dependent on a smooth sequence of movement.
Cognition, or thinking
Now we move from the physical domain to the cognitive, or ‘thinking’ domain. We might first look at the acquisition of knowledge achieved through participation in physical activities. The range of knowledge to be obtained by this means is quite remarkable.
There can be acquisition of information about the texture, weight, durability, softness or hardness of materials, the attitude of people, acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, aesthetic qualities that are to be admired or wondered at, societal norms, rules of games and other pursuits, good sportsmanship, management of stress, injury and competition, the behaviour of weather, the climate, environment and wild creatures in nature, even history if one wishes to include it, and much more.
Another cognitive capacity one can hone and enhance is problem-solving. Physical activities are replete with opportunities to generate problems one might solve by problem-solving. Team game tactics are essentially problem-solving activities, so are the composition of a dance, the scaling of a sheer rock wall and the negotiation of rapids in a canoe.
Creative thinking can be enhanced and exercised during participation in dance, diving or gymnastics as one works out programmes and routines. One can also cite innovative approaches used in many outdoor activities such as rock climbing, or tactics used in such team games as soccer, rugby, hockey, and many others.
The social domain
The social domain is also amenable to development in physical education.
Teamwork and followership can be experienced, with participation in such things as rock-climbing, hiking and team games offering myriads of learning experiences leading to people becoming capable of working effectively in a group under leaderships.
Socialised activities can enhance the learning of ethical behaviour. Many activities provide contexts for the exercise of actions showing fair play and empathy, revealing ethics and morality. Juvenile crime can be countered thereby.
Leadership opportunities are numerous, giving individuals the opportunity to lead teams or groups, thus gaining experience in implementing a variety of styles before settling on a suitable approach to leadership. Most people will reject either blatantly autocratic or laissez-faire approaches, choosing a style that is best suited to the task, perhaps with an element of democracy in it.
The emotional responses of people can also be honed. You can learn to control emotional responses when in tight situations, and to express emotions in ways acceptable to society. Finally, you can also learn to appreciate the emotional components of aesthetic movements found in such activities as dance, diving, gymnastics, and even team sports such as cricket and dare I say it, rugby, football or American football.
All of the above implies the adult being alert to opportunities that present themselves for children to identify emotional contexts, focus on them, receive guidance and learn to eventually self-educate themselves in the management of emotional responses.
Most outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, surfing, underwater swimming, rock climbing provide marvellous opportunities for educating youngsters. All of them also demand extra safety precautions and care.
Now list the outcomes as:
What can you do as a parent or educator?
Write down and reflect on the dozen outcomes. Then reflect on how you can use physical activity to enhance these qualities or capacities in the lives of your own youngsters or those you teach.
You need not teach the activities yourself; indeed for safety reasons that is best left to qualified and accredited teachers and coaches. But you can always watch from the sidelines, and use incidents and events that you spot in order to educate your child.. It’ll of course take a bit of initial effort.
You can have the ammunition available to become a role model. You can use sport as a medium of education. Do, however, study safety rules and first aid if you become personally and actively engaged. Also, get a first aid qualification if you work with young sports participants!