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)


More on E-Sports


Readers here will recall that a few weeks ago i wrote a piece in which I set out my reasons why I was unhappy to see schools falling in to the trap of offering ‘E-sports’ as an option – as an alternative to physical sports and physical education in the curriculum.

So, I was interested to see the following article in which the pros and cons are discussed;

Peak – Is E-Sport a Sport?

To be clear, the article isn’t particularly about the issue of E-sports being in schools, but it does go to the core of whether it’s appropriate for E-sports to be promoted as a legitimate sport. My personal reading of the article is that there is little strength in the arguments in favour of permitting it to be treated as a sport.

In my view, this alone would strengthen my concerns about allowing the games in to schools.However, we can add to that a brief snippet of a news item i caught on TV in the last week, as I entered the room. The gist was an investigation and suspicions that E-sports were willingly permitting advertising and other activity that brought gambling to the attention of children. This seems to be a massive red flag and increases my fears that it’s a trojan horse – working to get in to schools and the lives of children under a cloak of respectability for purposes that are not in the best interests of children.

I say even stronger – keep it out of schools.


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!

Being Strong is not Narcissism

school cricket

As an educator, I’ve long held certain beliefs that underpin my approach and decision making – particularly the direction that i seek to bring to the schools under my care. One of the strongest of those beliefs is that it was always a mistake for people to suggest that somehow there was a polar choice between an academically oriented education for children or a ‘holistic development’ approach. Rather, I believe that when children are given the appropriate support and guidance they develop the ability to take their strength in one aspect of their life (maybe sport) and turn it in to strength in other areas – e.g. academics, personal relations etc.

In my youth, my favoured sport was rugby. For many years i was tall and willowy and that wasn’t the best build for the game. However, with some good coaches I worked at it, bulked out and eventually reached a reasonable level of performance. Rugby culture has long held a strong orientation around selflessness and orientation around the team. It’s changed a bit these days, but in my day, when a player scored a try he (or she, though girls in the game were rare then) got a brief pat on the back from the nearest colleagues and everyone got in place quickly to get on with the game. There were no fancy celebrations or glorification of the individual. Today, the media wants to make a big issue of the person who dots the ball down at the end, ignoring all that has gone before.

In Delhi, there are a couple of occasions that come to mind when I felt the need to intervene, believing it was important that children be learning the right lessons, not just for sport, but for life. On the first occasion one of our schools was hosting an inter-school cricket tournament. When the final came around, our home team hadn’t got through. As the two teams took to the field, I heard some bad-mannered booing from students beside the field. After a short while, I saw some of them walking around the perimeter of the field, behind the bowler’s arm. This is very off-putting for batsmen. I needed to take them to one side to inform them that they were being very selfish and not treating the finalists with the respect deserved (for beating them to get there!) After some time, I saw a bowler take the wicket of the opposing batsmen. What I then saw was shocking. He ran down the wicket and leered and celebrated right in the face of the disappointed batsman. The two umpires on the field did nothing to stop this disgusting and atrocious behaviour. This might be something these children had seen an idol do on TV, but had no place in school sport. I was probably more shocked by the failure to act on the part of the umpires (school PE teachers). At the change of overs when they came off the field I took them to task, having seen similar behaviour played out a few more times. The umpires seemed surprised at my concern.

To my mind, this is at the very root of the issue between self-belief and narcissism. To be proud that you’re a good cricket bowler is healthy. To be motivated to hone your skills, to work to be the best bowler you can be is all positive and bi-products of grit and a growth mindset. However, reveling in the downfall of the batsmen, belittling them and taunting them is to fall in to negative and unhealthy narcissism. The sad fact here was that the adults, educators couldn’t tell the difference and didn’t see the need to do anything about it.

On another occasion there was a basketball game. As the game got in to the last few minutes the teams were neck and neck. The lead kept changing hands. There was tension and supporters of both teams were shouting encouragement from the sidelines. In the last couple of minutes, one team opened out and maintained a small gap – enough to win. As the final whistle blew the team were ecstatic. They jumped, they whooped, they hugged each other. Except for one boy. I was standing close to the scorer’s table. Instead of joining the huddle with his team mates, he ran towards the table shouting, “How many points did I score?” Before he had the chance to receive an answer, I swiftly took him by the shoulders, turned him around one hundred and eighty degrees, pointed him towards the huddle – “Go and celebrate. The TEAM won!” He got it, smiled sheepishly and ran off excitedly.

When I went to Sharjah to take up a new job our first responsibilities were all about creating a brand new school. In the rushed first weeks i was asked to come up with a ‘strap line’. It was needed very quickly for a document that was going to the printers. We were at a very early stage in the project, so there wasn’t really a big team to consult. I sat down to play with ideas, trying to get to the core of what i saw as most important in terms of core messages I wanted the new school to convey. I slept on the ideas for one night, not convinced that I yet had what I was looking for. I was back on the case next morning. I came up with a lot of ideas, before the one I knew was right came in to my head – “I am me, I am unique.” To me, it was about emphasising personalisation in education and learning to respond to the individual needs of each student. I wanted each student to know their own strengths, leverage those strengths whilst acknowledging those things that were still to work on. When we launched brochures and other materials with this phrase on, it really resonated with parents and students. Teachers also saw what was expected of them in supporting the uniqueness. I clearly remember conversations about how this was not a matter of simply giving them platitudes, telling them they were wonderful etc.

Here is an article that relates to a book putting across the same point. Self awareness and self belief are important attributes for youngsters today. There is, indeed, a narcissism problem largely caused by polar and simplistic thinking. There is a world of difference between growing up understanding that I’m unique or believing that i’m special, entitled and expecting to have everything come my way.

The Guardian – Self-entitled, moi? Teens, narcissism and why ‘special’ and ‘unique’ are different things

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.

Do NOT Let Your Child Play Rugby

I love this piece, so subtle in its use of irony (or is it sarcasm?).

We need to guide the young very wisely!

In the Loose – Article
(Click on link to find out why you should keep your child away from this nasty nasty sport!)

Gulf News Article 5: Active and Passive Leisure

This is the fifth in the series of 7 special articles I’ve been writing for the Education Supplement of Gulf News. The remit was to write pieces which would be of interest and value to young people aged from around 14/ 15 upwards.

This article deals with defining the difference between active and passive leisure and how one can be a powerful force for good while the other can significantly undermine a person’s chances of achieving anything meaningful in their life:

Gulf news article 22-09-2013
(Click on the link to open, read or download as a pdf)

Young Children & Competitive Sports

Here’s a very interesting short article, highlighting academic research from the US that suggests that when children are getting too into a team sport too early it can actually be detrimental: Article

I was particularly interested by the suggestion that a child ideally shouldn’t be focusing on a single sport until age 15. My instinct had always suggested ‘not before age 11’ to me.

The article also contained an interesting point about how much actual exercise some children are really getting when they are part of a team sport, that may actually still leave them unfit.

Much to think about.

Developing a Sporting Culture in India

It’s really too early to say how well the Indian sportspeople are going to achieve at the Asian Games in China, as the event has only been running for two days. However, it’s probably fair to say that there is a sense of coming down from the ‘high’ of Commonwealth Games – realising the extent of the journey that lies ahead if the country wishes to develop a true sporting culture.

Personally, I believe it is vitally important for many reasons, not least the health of the nation’s youth. A sporting culture makes it the norm for the majority of young people to engage in physical exercise on a regular basis as a fundamental leisure pursuit (rather than withdrawing by age 11 or 12 once they realise they won’t ‘make the team’ for the significant sports played in their school. As much as there are plenty of entrepreneurs in India who see enormous potential for the future business of the hospital and healthcare industry (raking it in from all the needless lifestyle diseases) I would much rather see them proved over-optimistic.

Many of our children, like many of us, are probably destined to roles in adulthood that keep them seated at desks for way too many hours a day. If they have not put down a decent foundation of physical wellness and fitness in childhood the degeneration of the body and its systems can only be rapid.

Today was Children’s Day and I can’t think of a better pledge on that day than to commit to do all we can to take our children toward a healthier, fitter and far more physically active future.

There’s a long road ahead and much to do. Some of the issues are highlighted in this fascinating article from Tehelka:

Tehelka article
(Click on the link to open the webpage)

After reading it, I couldn’t help wondering – how many of the CWG sports facilities have been used for training sportspeople since the CWG closing ceremony?

Caring About Sport – With passion

had to share this link to an article on the legal action being pursued by a good friend.

Rahul Mehra article

I can’t help thinking that the more people talk about what Rahul is doing, back him on the net, more media coverage – the more it should speed up the chances of positive results – something that has to be wanted by every sports lover in the country.

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