In the research article Learning in action sports (2016), Ellmer and Rynne discuss the ways in which athletes learn and improve in alternative sports, as opposed to the development and training structures of more traditional sports. Examples are given in snowboarding and parkour and a case study is presented from the experience of Janine, a Mountain Bike Trials rider.
Ellmer and Rynne cite CSIRO (2013) in suggesting that the availability of online resources may result in more rapid growth of skills in alternative sports. This is typical of so many areas of learning today. I can instantly recall many occasions where, perhaps sitting around a table in a restaurant or bar, a question has arisen and only moments later someone has produced an answer by “Googling It” on their smartphone.
I make a direct connection with an alternative sport that I train in - parkour. I attend weekly lessons, run by a qualified coach - an approach that sounds very much traditional. On many occasions however, I decide not to wait an entire week for another lesson. Instead of waiting for professional guidance on how to take my vaulting technique to the next level, I’ll grab whichever device happens to be within arms reach and just “YouTube It”.
This typifies my experience with my current physical education students and the way they learn. I often tell the story of the time I first taught Ultimate Frisbee to Year 5’s:
Lesson 1 in my unit was a great success. Students were engaged in the content and as many of them had not played the sport before, it was new and exciting and as the teacher, I felt relevant and enthused. I had taught basic game concepts and skills and was looking forward to Lesson 2 where I planned to teach the supercool backhand throw.
Walking through the schoolyard midweek, I was pretty chuffed to see the game had caught on. The year 5’s were playing it in their lunch break. As I got closer I noticed them performing what I was calling the supercool backhand throw.
That was supposed to be next week’s lesson! Now what would I teach?
“Wow” I said, “Where did you learn to do that?”
“We just YouTubed It”... of course.
That was the moment when I realised that the traditional method of teaching was off. Students will no longer sit around and wait for their teacher to supply them with the knowledge they want. Half the time we are teaching to our own agenda anyway and not theirs.
This is why I regularly record my own physical education videos and upload them for my students. I practice Flipped Learning, where the traditional learning structure is flipped around and students take control over the content.
Extreme athletes must take a greater role in their own learning, and “rely on more informal means to learn” (Ellmer & Rynne 2016). If there is a downside to the alternative method, then this is it. If in fact the current crop of adventure sports do not revolve around a structure of organisations and regulated training programs, athletes MUST be self-motivated, autonomous learners. Or at least those who are will be the ones who rise to the top of their sports at a much higher rate.
It will be interesting to watch the evolution of these two different approaches to learning, and exciting as a progressive teacher to be a part of that evolution. If I were to make a prediction here, it would be that we see a meeting point, perhaps at the halfway mark between the approaches. Traditional sports becoming more athlete-centred, harnessing current trends and technologies for a change in approach to learning. And on the other side, alternative sports growing to a point where they solidify their importance in sport culture and thereby spawn structures and organisations which will develop more regulated training programs and defined development paths.
Ellmer, E. & Rynne, S., (2016). Learning in action and adventure sports, Asia-Pacific Journal Of Health, Sport And Physical Education Vol. 7 , Iss. 2,2016, Pg.107-119, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/18377122.2016.1196111
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. (2013). From extreme to mainstream in the future of Australian sport. Canberra: Australian Sports Commission.
This week I revived a game which I put up on my website about a year ago. Pirate’s Treasure is a super simple throwing and catching activity where students work together to transport treasure from island to island to eventually store it in their pirate ship.
The game got some great feedback from students, as it did with a different group of students last year. As well as putting their throwing and catching skills to the test, students also ended up in constructive debate about how to improve strategically in the game, as well as how to be a fair team player.
While there are options to play this as a competitive game, with two teams racing to collect the most treasure, where this game really comes into it’s own is the whole-class version.
In this version of the game, there is no opponent. The entire class make tactical decisions on where to place their hoop (island) then work together to transport as much treasure as possible without losing it to the bottom of the sea. As the game progresses, treasure is lost forever, mistakes are made and the stockpile of treasure available slowly decreases. The tension starts to rise and motivation to make good tactical decisions, rises with it.
I think part of the reason students come back to Phys Ed begging to play the game again, is the intangible feeling they get from working together toward a shared goal. They all have a part to play in the challenge and must support each other if they want to be successful.
This way of thinking, this way of working I believe is a more transferrable life skill. We allow plenty of opportunities for friendly competition and that too is important in driving us to be better individuals. Teaching this game though, I am made aware of how open to learning and improvement students can be when working collaboratively.
Now I am on the hunt for more activities like this. What other challenges will motivate students to work together toward a common goal? Please share your ideas!