The Merits of Active vs Passive Leisure Activity

volley ball

For my fifth article for Gulf News 6 years ago I turned to the issue of how young people choose to spend their non working time. Firstly, it’s vitally important that young people (or any of us for that matter) have time away from their work and studies. The brain needs to recharge and needs vital time to rest, recover, absorb learning and be energised to take on board more learning effectively. It goes without saying that they also need enough sleep as this is vital time when the brain organises new learning that’s been acquired to make it permanent and to synthesise it with what’s already known.

In the article i sought to differentiate between active and passive forms of leisure activity, stressing the positive nature of the former and how it is to be encouraged by parents. The latter is really just ‘time waste’.

I also emphasised the value in reading purposefully in pursuit of personal goals.

gulf-news-article 5-22-09-2013
(To read the article, click on the link above – it should then open as either a new browser tab or a new window)


Losing the Plot Over E-Sports

Fortnite 3 million

“E-sports” – the very name is a marketing masterpiece. It gives a sense of legitimacy and slides these activities in alongside the most thrilling of endeavours to be expected in top flight rugby, football, gymnastics, swimming, marathon running.

But this is a joke. You can dress a pig in a dress, it’s still a pig! There are people in rehab clinics dealing with the effects of computer gaming addiction. On this basis, are we going to add cigarette smoking and whiskey imbibing to the curriculum in schools?

The spurious argument frequently given for inclusion of E-sports in schools is that they attract the students who otherwise wouldn’t engage in participatory activities. I’m afraid I get flabbergasted by this argument. When I was in school the kids who tried to bunk off from every PE lesson or sports/ games session would have been equally happy to be told that they were signed up for the competitive drinking and smoking activity which in due course when they had honed their skills would see them competing against other schools, then with some illicit gambling thrown in as well would go on to have the chance to compete in national competitions at which they could maybe win vast sums of money (although, of course, most of them would win diddly squit)

And yes, the fever will now get a whole lot worse after the recent saga of the Fortnite World Cup – at which the young man above won a ridiculous $3 million dollars. Because now, the voices of the loonies will be joined by the greedy avarice of the sadly misguided to suggest that more children should be playing such games – because you can get rich playing them!

(By the way, Fortnite is a game in which people in a virtual computer game world try to shoot each other dead until they’re the last survivor. Now after events in so many American schools and colleges, doesn’t that just completely sound like the sort of thing we should have children doing? No?)

Over the years I’ve attended a lot of sports events, sports days etc. in schools. Some were everything that sport should be about and some were awful for so many reasons that relate to failure of many of the adults concerned to really understand what school sports are about (or should be about!)

On one memorable occasion there were protocol reasons why there were way too many speeches on a day that was supposed to be about children enjoying and engaging in sports competitions. When I stood to speak I had chosen to focus on engaging in regular and rigorous physical exercise and/ or sport purely for its own sake, finding the pleasure in the process of learning skills and letting the outcome look after itself. I was followed at the podium by a very senior police officer. He spoke in Hindi and i was struggling to understand, so took the help of the school Principal sitting beside me for translation. I was mortified to discover that he started off by telling the gathered students and parents to take note of what I’d said. The children should indeed put lots of effort in to playing sports BECAUSE……… in this way they could become incredibly wealthy just like Sachin Tendulkar!!

So, in terms of how we arrived where we are, should anyone really be surprised? particularly in developing countries we see the rates of diabetes, obesity and other health issues for children escalating at truly horrific rates. We see schools where physical exercise and sports act like a massive filtering machine, until by secondary school just a handful who found by accident that they had some innate talent are still engaging in sport and a handful will emerge to rise to the very top (where they will be lavished with untold wealth and ridiculous adulation). The rest, they disengage from physical exercise and activity, figuring it’s ‘not for them’. Their time, instead, goes in to academics (and the parents are happy that they’re not distracted) and hours of social networking, computer games and media consumption.

Some of the luckier ones will realise in their 20’s that they’d missed the plot completely. They start to realise that their bodies are already starting to let them down and they are unlikely to be able to fulfil their career (and financial) goals if they don’t do something seriously and quickly about their physical health. Some make the move in time, some sadly don’t.

Where did it all go so wrong? There was a time when all children would have been physically active just for the pure, natural goodness of the process. They wouldn’t be getting anxious about performance issues, tearing themselves apart with unreasonable comparisons with the elite. In hunter-gatherer communities, did 95% of the males decide that hunting wasn’t for them because they couldn’t match the performance of the village’s best hunter? Or because they were never going to be the richest guy in the village through hunting?

Many children spend vast numbers of their non school hours engaged with computer games and electronic media. I fear that these are the very children who would gravitate to a few more hours of the same thing in school. They are the very children who should be steered away from such activities in school.

School is about learning to be our best and to live the best possible life in every respect. In such circumstances, learning to have a sensible and realistic relationship with our physical body has to be a fundamental part. This does mean that many teachers who didn’t have good relationships with being physically active themselves need to get over it for the sake of the children they teach.

I say though, please please, keep the E-sports out of schools!

Growth Mindset in Sports

Physical education, games and sports are a vital and integral part of a fully rounded holistic education. I also believe that for many children they also provide some of the most powerful and transferable experiences of what it means to be an effective learner. A child who develops a strong inclination towards a particular student quickly learns the natural connection between effort and outcomes – the more I train and apply myself, the better I become and the more success I can achieve in the sport.

So, as the concept of ‘Growth Mindset’ has developed over the last few years, it was important that specific attention be paid to its application in the area of sport. So, I was very pleased to see from this article that a book has been written on that subject;

Mindsetworks – Blog – Put Me In Coach – Growth Mindset in the World of Sports

Whilst I’m very keen to read the book, the article suggests that the writers have done a good job. One of the points that struck me was one where from time to time i’ve deliberately chosen to have provocative and thoughtful debates with teachers – how should children be chosen for school sports teams? All too often, the child with the high level of innate early talent gets called up for the team over the child who may be starting from a lower base, but who has the growth mindset and potential to work and strive to develop the technical skills.

The other thing the article talks about is the areas where sports coaches can sometimes have ‘blind spots’. Whilst they may pride themselves on a growth mindset approach towards the children and their technical skills and competence in the sport, they may harbour fixed mindset attitudes towards things like resilience, motivation and mental toughness. It’s important that coaches recognise that these are all things that can be learned and tailor their approaches accordingly.

Higher quality coaching that utilises and harnesses the power of growth mindset thinking can ensure that more children get more rich and rewarding experiences from their engagement with games and sports.

Being A Well-Rounded Kid Pays Off

I love it when scientific research confirms what I and many other educators have long believed, justifying a holistic approach to child development and a schooling that gives children exposure to a diverse curriculum that places emphasis on physical pursuits and the arts alongside more academic subjects.

For many years my favourite phrase on the subject has been – it’s all curricular!

So, firstly, here’s an article from the :LA Times, reporting on the latest research that highlights the educational, learning and mental benefits of regular physical exercise and involvement in sports:

LA Times – To Do Better In School Children Should Exercise Their Bodies As Well As Their Brains

So, strong evidence to support ideas of a healthy body in a healthy mind. What I’ve been concerned about in the past (and remain so) is that too m uch of our approach to physical activity in school is still working like a filter, meaning that many children are opting out by the Secondary years. It needs to be for every student, all the time, as part of gaining the habits of a positive healthy lifestyle.

Secondly, here’s scientific evidence for the mental benefits of engaging in music making – faster brain development as a result of music training:

Medical Xpress – Researchers find that children’s brains develop faster with music training

Just as a balanced nutritious diet leads to healthy physical development, so we are learning more and more about the benefits of a balanced mental diet.

Get Outside!

Here’s a report which, whilst initially shocking, is not really at all surprising;

TES – Sir Ken Robinson Urges Schools To Help Increase Outdoor Playtime For Children

We can only begin to imagine what the implications are from this in terms of both physical and mental health. I even find myself wondering whether this has a whole set of implications that I and many others haven’t thought through yet. many in the medical field have suggested that, as science and medicine have moved forward, today’s generation of young children is the first with the potential to live a life beyond 100 years. What if the result of mistakes in childhood lifestyle, diet, exposure to sun and lack of physical exercise mean that they are actually the first generation that will see a shorter lifespan than those older.

There is no excuse for this. It shouldn’t happen. Do we have the willpower and the sense to arrest the negative trends?

Learner-Centric Approaches to Physical Education

I’ve written in the past about my belief that physical education should be treated as an important and relevant part of learning in school as much as any academic subject. It is absolutely NOT a period of light relief from the real learning, a break or even just a way to get children to let off some steam and physical energy, so that they concentrate better in the other classes. As we acknowledge the significant interrelationship between mind and body, we have to give PE its rightful place in school.

In the past, and especially in my experiences in India, the low importance given to PE has meant that very little regard is given to understanding how to integrate modern teaching pedagogy, practices and methodology in to the PE domain. Too many compromises are made in the professional development and accountability of PE teachers. Worse, too many school leaders haven’t bothered to take the time to understand the role and importance of PE and too many schools use PE teachers as glorified policemen to handle control and discipline, especially when the children are together in large numbers for assemblies and other gatherings.

So, when I come across good resources in this area, I’m always glad to share them. This is a really good podcast that I came across recently. It’s an interview and Q & A with Dr Stephen Harvey on the subject of Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU). I would urge that not just PE teachers, but also school leaders, other teachers and even parents can gain considerable understanding of what’s possible when it comes to developing PE programmes that are motivating, engage all students ad lead to growth, development and learning for every pupil;

Dr Stephen Harvey – TGfU – Podcast

(For those who want to take their understanding further, there are some useful references on the summary page and in the podcast itself)

Kobe Bryant – Sports Inspiration

There are good reasons why the world has long looked to top achievers in the field of sports as inspiration for success, whether in personal life, business or any other pursuit.

The willingness to focus and put in more effort than peers is something that’s very transparent when there’s a sportsperson who takes it to a level beyond others. There can always be risks associated with putting individuals on pedestals, but there are some who hold up to scrutiny. One such athlete is NBA basketball player, Kobe Bryant. His commitment to practice and preparation above and beyond other players is legendary.

Business Insider – Kobe Bryant’s Insane Work Ethic

The Truth About Exercise

An excellent BBC documentary that explodes some of the myths we've all learned about exercise, fitness and managing weight. Well worth watching.

Also, vitally important to ensure that we're giving the right messages and information to children, while they're at the best stage in their lives to create positive habits that they can maintain later.

Exercise for Better Learning

Why deny children regular exercise, when the evidence in favour is so powerful?

I would put particular emphasis here on the word ‘regular’. I get very troubled when i see data or evidence in schools that suggests that the amount of physical activity the children are getting is actually dwindling. Even when they do gt physical exercise, all too often for administrative convenience it’s squeezed in to one weekly session, thereby significantly reducing the benefits.

Here’s a nice, short article that sets out in very simple terms what we know about the benefits of regular physical exrcise. Incidentally, this article isn’t even written to refer to children – it’s just as relevant for us adults!

Fast Company – 3 Reasons Exercise Makes You Smarter

It’s ironic that the volume of curriculum is often given as one of the primary reasons for squeezing out time for recess or PE. As the article highlights, our memories actually work better when we get good regular exercise – which should mean we can learn more in shorter time. Also, in schools there’s a very big factor that isn’t touched upon here. When children are getting good exrcise every day they’re calmer and more focused in the classroom – thereby significantly reducing discipline issues and off-task beaviour.

Not only does this make the classroom a more effective place of learning, but it reduces health risks for the children and makes the classroom a ‘nicer’ more empathic place. It’s really time to rethink the role of the physical body in the school.