Parents Voice in Government School Education

School sport and the development of life skills

This article by John Hendry OAM extends the philosophy of RbE into the area of school sport. 

Sport as a reflection of culture

Sport has been, and remains, a strong and significant part of the total school curriculum for most schools.  It is important for students physically, mentally and socially. Sport in the school curriculum provides one opportunity for the culture of a school to be accessible for all to see, to be reinforced by deed.

Culture can be written, it can be spoken, but ultimately it is how we behave, it is our actions. Most importantly it is our actions to ourselves, to our team, to our opponents. In sport behaviour is evident, there is no hiding, it is seen in an individual’s actions, in a team’s behaviour. This is why compulsory sport for all is an important part of any student’s education.

Sport is not about being the best, although, as in all walks of life this is what we strive for. It is about doing your best, it is about being the best that you can be, wherever that puts you on a spectrum of achievement.

Life-long learning experience

Life skills are explored, recognised, learned and developed by all students as they engage in sport and by all staff members that are involved.  These represent life-long learnings and are available for all.  Sport involves all students in learning to make judgements, to make decisions, to problem solve, to plan and to do so strategically.

Sport promotes persistence, curiosity, the capacity to focus on a task, to analyse and synthesize data, to hypothesise, to establish a sense of coding and understanding logical patterns, to be creative, to imagine, to learn about space and time, and to communicate.  It fosters a sense of discovery and profile development as well providing constant opportunities to learn about and establish resilience.  It particularly develops the skills associated with cooperating and collaborating with others, with establishing purpose and being able adjust and be flexible as conditions change.  It teaches visualisation and patterns of thinking that are not rigid and that are adaptable to opportunity as it presents in an execution of a skill in a contest.

Sport teaches about competition and the many facets of competition, within ourselves, with others, against others.  Students are faced with learning about winning and losing. They are faced with success and failure. They are required to consider how to hold their nerve and how to recognise moments for action and moments for inaction.  Sport constantly possess challenges for the emotions. This is important for the young as they grow to better understand their own emotions and how to recognise and regulate these emotions as they journey through a game and a season.  This is critical learning for life.

Immediate feedback is given in any sport, almost moment-to-moment. Did you achieve what you intended to do? What were the consequences? Very quickly it can be seen how an individual gives immediate feedback and how those receiving the feedback deal with it. Both the giving and receiving is an important learning experience and should be the subject of careful consideration to ensure feedback is given and received with kindness, with compassion.  The individual is confronted with how they understand their attitude to what has happened in the sporting moment. How do they deal with the elation? How do they deal with the disappointment?

All of this examination and consideration that the sporting moment contains leads to an important grounding in the challenges that life will place before an individual.  Sporting effort requires and provokes critical thinking in the moment. It also teaches the importance of perspective. Perspective comes with taking away the intensity of emotion and putting matters into a bigger context and acknowledging effort and achievement. Decision making constantly presents and the intensity of emotions can inhibit or disturb effective decision making.

Luck and resilience

Luck is an intrinsic part of Sport, as it is in life. Luck, chance, fate, destiny, kismet, whatever you wish to call it presents as a friend or foe constantly in sport, as it does in life. Sport teaches all to appreciate luck in its many forms and how to experience and manage being “unlucky”. What sport also teaches you, is that through practice and effort in acquisition of skill, in thoughtful analysis, creativity thinking and habitual practice we can all improve our chances of being “lucky”.

Sport provides a lens into oneself and into others as to how we and others contend with the dual travellers, “success and failure”. Learning this through sport is of fundamental importance as to how we face these matters throughout our life.

Resilience is essential for anyone involved in Sport. Resilience is the re-establishment of hope in moments when a challenge or a mistake can overwhelm.  Sport provides a constant opportunity to establish a “resilient mindset” that enables one to feel more hopeful rather than hopeless when things go awry or are daunting.

The development of a resilient mindset is critical in life and essential in crucial lived moments.  Hope is essential if one is to positively approach mistake, failure and change.  Hope permits all to move on, to find a way forward.

Sport is about relationships

Sport is primarily about relationships. It is about the relationship you have with yourself and the relationships you have as teammates, as peers and/or as competitors. Sport is played with and against others. Other people are involved in one way or another.

The five elements associated with all quality relationships present in sport.  These five elements are trust, forgiveness, integrity, hope and compassion (empathy actioned through care) and they register always when we relate to and with others.  These five elements exist in every relationship formed and with the relationship we have with ourselves.  These five elements are “in your face” in sport for being undertaken well or for being undertaken poorly. If undertaken well, they will, invariably over time, lead to success.

In individual sports it is the relationship we have with ourselves and the self-compassion that we show to ourselves that determines our performance.  This applies in team situations as well, for how we ourselves behave to ourselves and to others, will impact on how others react and how others behave. Behaviour is contagious so how we behave with others will impact on them and will impact on the performance of ourselves and others, on our team or our crew etc. Our behaviour also impacts on those we compete against in Sport and how they respond.

We are defined in all aspects of life by how we behave in relationships and sport does present critical life opportunities to be dignified and quality individuals, as sport tests all emotionally moment-to-moment.  The actions and behaviour of supporters also influences each of us in our actions and performance.  The individual or the team and its supporters have a symbiotic relationship and each draws its behaviour and reactions from each other. In such a relationship it is important that individual’s stand-up for the appropriate actions and qualities to be leaders and not to stand-by and accept the unacceptable.

Care for others

From Sport we learn to contribute, to give and not to take, to care for others and ourselves. We learn that limits can be extended and we learn what we need to do both in preparation and in the contest to extend our limits.

We learn to recognise our “own markers” (our own trigger points for good performance) and those of teammates and opponents and we learn how to regulate our emotions when our emotions are taking us “off our game”. When we are “off our game” we are not making good decisions and therefore we do not produce our best performance.

We are faced in sport with others trying to “get us off our game” and we are required to recognise, appreciate and conquer irritation and distraction to ensure we stay on task.

It becomes clear that application to the task, in the moment, is critical. We have to think “on our feet” (or on our backsides if in a boat etc.!) when our application is challenged.

All these learnings from sport provide a growth in maturity that is rewarding on the field and that can then be applied in the classroom, in an examination, in the boardroom or any other aspect of life. This experience provides us with the mindset to make a contribution in sport, as in life; to make an effort when we are facing a challenge.

Integrity – doing the right thing

Integrity is the intension to do the right thing, and in sport, as in life, this becomes obvious to ourselves and others in how we behave.  Sport teaches much here.  We learn from sport: honesty; fair play; acting with grace and dignity when things go our way; and acting with dignity when things do not go our way. All of these are learnings from sport that can be applied in the classroom and in all aspects of our lives.

Sport also shows the impact of contagion.  Negative emotion is a contagious force that spreads to disrupt attitude and focus. If there is an individual with negative emotion in a sporting team or event, this will transmit quickly to others and lead to a disruption in the quality of performance.

Too much positive emotion can also have a negative impact and be contagious. This can lead to over confidence. Over confidence also takes us away from a quality performance. We become complacent and we do not pay attention to performing the basic tasks/actions required for success.

Sport provides the opportunity for all to learn how to recognise and respond to contagion and to arrest the inevitable slides into anxiety and/or overconfidence, that both inhibit performance.  How we carry ourselves (how we act) in these moments of contest define us as individuals both on and off the field.

‘Good sport’ gold standard

The ‘good sport’ is a character description all parents want for their children and certainly it is what all schools want their students to be known as.  The ‘good sport’ character concept recognises all the positive aspects that sport participation brings as mentioned above and more.

A ‘good sport’ indicates an individual who: has given honest effort; has a capacity to manage failure and success; is resilient; has in mind the care of self and others; acts with dignity on and off the field; and contributes without seeking reward for an action/task. To be a ‘good sport’ implies that an individual is willing to accept responsibility and that they take on an obligation to self and others to always exhibit a sense of “fair play”.

A ‘good sport’ will show respect to all and will act with a sense of compassion to others, as well as undertaking actions for the common good.  To be a ‘good sport’ requires that you stand-up in moments of challenge and respond with appropriate action and not stand-by and accept inappropriate action.

A ‘good sport’ requests all to assist others and to give their best.  This asks all to manage life with care and to prepare for things with purpose and hope and it also asks all to have a sense of occasion and not to develop a sense of entitlement. Nothing comes from nothing.

Sport develops the whole person

The physical, psychological and sociological aspects of sport are significant.  Each of these are critical, for each contributes to overall all performance by an individual in a sporting environment.

Diet and exercise are of course obvious and these have been extensively studied and analysed for their impact on performance. There is however, still much to learn about the psychology and sociology of Sport and sport performance. That is, the mindset of the individual and the mindset for relating to others. Much work has been and continues to be done in these two critical individual and relational areas in pursuit of significant contribution and achieving the best performance.

These three facets of sport (the physical, the psychological and the sociological) are also the underpinnings for life generally and Sport enables all involved to chart a better understanding of each of these and to experience how each contributes to performance or the lack of performance.  All these aspects are components of who we are.

Schools and parents all want children to reach performance levels that enable them to contribute and to develop appropriate life skills to find the way forward for them that brings a sense of satisfaction and contentment.  Sport, in this regard, is a critical part of the overall school curriculum and all who are involved are better off for their involvement.

Sport, as is life, is about relationships. Sport enables individuals to learn about and apply the elements of quality relationships: trust, forgiveness, integrity, hope and compassion. School sport provides a window for an individual to obtain important experiences and learning for the path of life to come.

John Hendry OAM (April 2020)

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