Should school sports prioritize participation over competition? What a new report says

High school sports play an important role in meeting the physical and mental health needs of students, but with less than 2 out of 5 students in public high school participating, the traditional model needs to be updated to serve more of them, Aspen reported in the spring. The institute says.

Sport For All, The High School of Life Games sports report proposes eight strategies to help principals and school leaders develop students’ social and emotional skills through sport. The product of two years of research and the contributions of more than 60 experts, the report envisages a school sports system with opportunities for each student. Increasing participation in sports can have lifelong consequences, given that student athletes are more likely to be active when they become adults. In addition, as educators increase their students’ socio-emotional skills and reconnect with their schools during years of pandemic-induced isolation and disruption of education.

“The current high school sports model doesn’t work well enough for students,” said Jon Solomon, editorial director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. “It’s largely focused on trying to win games and scholarships and playing school, which is still incredibly valuable and important, but there are a lot of other students who are lagging behind.”

“We believe that leaders should recognize that every student, regardless of their background or ability, has the right to play sports, and we don’t just mean the right to try in a team,” he added.

Here are some steps that school leaders can take to make school sport more accessible to students:

Matching school sport with student interests

Schools need to know what they want to participate in to design a sports offering that will increase student participation. However, Jay Coakley, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Springs who was one of the experts consulted by the Aspen Institute in its reporting process, said that today’s youth sports are “adult-oriented”.

“Children’s developmental interests and children’s interests have been ignored in their movements,” Coakley said. “It’s the adult perspective that creates the league and all the things that go along with it — doing internships, setting schedules — and kids don’t have a voice and their interests are ignored or unknown.”

“Many of the changes that have taken place have been taken out of the hands of children and put into action into the hands of adults,” he added. “I’m not against adult guidance, but that’s not a good move.”

That is, according to Coakley, adults have different definitions of fun than students. The main reason for high school students to have fun is to have fun, according to a report from the Aspen Institute. Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said they are involved so they can make new friends and play.

“Those are the first things that come out of organized sports,” Coakley said.

For example, in minor league baseball, Coakley said the coach’s goal is to identify the team’s pitcher that will prevent the batsman from hitting the ball, which precludes the other player from kicking the ball.

“Everybody’s saying that the game is perfect, that’s what you want. Meanwhile, the other seven players are not playing the ball, ”Coakley said.

To measure student voices, the Aspen Institute report suggests that schools conduct annual student interest surveys with a common set of questions about student sports preferences, reasons for participation or non-participation, and youth / adult relationships in the context of the sport they provide to students. These surveys should also take into account the disability status, race, ethnicity and grade level of the respondents.

Give them a chance to play

Student-led indoor sports and sports clubs can offer the same benefits as school competition, including exercise, teamwork skills, mental health benefits, and a sense of belonging. These formats, although popular on university campuses, are often preferred in high schools. However, for example, when 75 students try their hand at college basketball, when 15 make up the team, and when only 10 get significant playing time, these alternative playing options can make a difference.

One of the ways that Dan Dejager, a physical education teacher at Meraki High School in Fair Oaks, California, keeps his students active outside of school programs is to differentiate his teaching according to the needs, interests, and ability levels of his students.

For example, instead of teaching his students how to dance line, Dejager has his own class in Just Dance, a video game in which players dance synchronized with a virtual character in contemporary music.

“I think if you become more physically active, and the activities you enjoy are meaningful to you, then that physical well-being, that emotional well-being, and your mental well-being will come,” Dejager said.

The Aspen Institute suggests that physical education teachers and athletic directors expand their course offerings or connect students to community programs such as cycling clubs and yoga classes, which show that more than 1 in 3 students are interested in strength training. Between 1. 4 want to ride a bike, and 1 out of 5 want to skate, yoga and dance.

Prioritize educating students over winning games

In most high schools it is seen that sports have different goals than academic ones, as they prioritize education. Coaches often believe that their main job is to win championships, so they can focus their resources on the best athletes, sometimes at the expense of other students who want to play and who would benefit from doing so.

Terri Drain, president of the Association of Health and Physical Educators, who has been teaching and coaching high school field hockey for 34 years, said that to attract children back to the sport, “quite a change” is needed.

“We need to talk about the purpose of school sport,” Drain said. “Is it to prepare children for college sports careers and to measure success when our students receive an essay or scholarship? Or how do we measure success by the number of students involved? ”

As students get older, they cut more or stop playing sports. On average, children stop playing sports at the age of 11, according to a survey By the Aspen Institute and Utah State University Families Sports Lab.

Drain envisions a school sports system where “every child, regardless of skill level, can play,” not just for the elite kids on their way to college. “

To address this, administrators should ensure that all sports activities are consistent with a school’s educational approach, according to a report from the Aspen Institute. This could include a specific symbiotic mission for the sports department and the involvement of the sports staff through team discussion and performance reviews.

Increase coaching education

Coaches often play a key role in shaping students ’ideas about health and education. In fact, 1 in 3 students say they do the sport “because of a coach who takes care of me,” according to the Aspen Report. However, the training of many coaches stops after the initial certification, and they do not have the knowledge to make the sport a healthy and positive experience for the students. In surveys, nearly half of all students report doing sports for their emotional well-being and mental health, but only six states require coaches to train in human development, developmental psychology, and organizational management.

The Association of Health and Physical Educators has developed national standards for sports coaches, the first is to “develop and implement an athlete-based coaching philosophy”. In other words, sports coaches prioritize opportunities for the development of athletes rather than winning games.

Many coaches, according to Drain, train like they used to as athletes. To break this cycle, schools need to offer professional development that will help teach physical educators with regard to physical literacy and the attitude that all children have the right to learn.

The Aspen Institute says that athletic managers should actively support the effective behavior of coaches through internal teaching, external training, and the coaching network. Coaches should also be held accountable for providing a positive experience for athletes and for increasing student retention rates.

The Aspen Institute said schools could make school sport more attractive and useful for development, including developing administrators ’personalized activity plans with students, requiring athletic trainers in schools that offer collision sports, defining standard athletics programs for schools, and developing community-based partnerships. organizations.

Adam Lane, Fla. The principal of Haines City High School in Polk County said that among all the strategies proposed in the report, “the biggest challenge” is to establish sports that interest students.

“The reason is the feasibility of starting a new program from scratch, when you don’t have the equipment or facilities to do so,” Lane said.

“Something like this can’t be done in a couple of months,” he continued. “One is for the financial needs of all the equipment needed, but you also have to find two, facilities or a place to play and not have schools, maybe not communities. There’s a lot of planning involved. “

The Aspen Institute has yet to follow up with schools on the implementation of playbook strategies, but they intend to do so, according to Solomon. For now, the institute will continue to promote its strategies and highlight the work of those who are revitalizing the organization’s vision.

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