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The boy who ‘used to’

Sometimes we make our own decisions and leave pursuits of our past in the past, for example when end our competitive playing days or sell a bike. At other times these decisions are made for us by significant others, for example the child that leaves his or her school work undone and plays outside is frowned upon and told to take greater responsibility for his or her life. We discourage play and yet we also understand the importance of physical activity. The danger, as this week’s pedagogical case shows, is that desire to play and be active becomes something that we used to do.

 

Volume 2.18 (Blog 113):

Adamakis, M., Stavrou, N., Georgiadis, E., & Yannakoulia, M. (2014). John: A coordinated approach to developing an active lifestyle. In K.M. Armour (ed.) Pedagogical cases in physical education and youth sport (pp. 235-246). London: Routledge.

 

John

John used to play football (soccer). He also used to play basketball and swimming and karate. But it doesn’t seem that there is time for that now. Not that he would choose to swim again because the training is so boring. He wouldn’t do Karate again either both because the new uniform every year was too expensive for his parents to buy and because he never felt he had the right level of ability to go very far. Still, at least he could say that he used to do it. Now there just doesn’t seem to be time to do any of this, regardless of cost.

Like many 15 year-old Greek children, John either spends his time at school working on his studies or at home with his tutor working on his studies. It’s not that the family – one that lives quite comfortably but not one with lots to spare - doesn’t believe that physical activity is vital its just they have very little leisure time. Both John’s parents work long hours and John is always studying and with all this activity they are all often tired at the end of the day.

It’s not that John wants to be Mr “used to” but what choice does he have? He would prefer to go for a walk, play football or basketball with his friends, or just hang out, but where? There’s nowhere in his neighbourhood to play and anyway, his parents don’t think its safe. He could go to school and play basketball on the weekends, and he occasionally does, but with all his extra study he doesn’t have time. Instead he plays PC games, surfs the Internet or watches TV. 

John’s diet isn’t great either. His mum, after a long day at work and then all her household chores, doesn’t often have the time to plan ahead in terms of meals for the family. Consequently they eat a lot of convenience food. In John’s case he eats particularly badly. He only eats some foods and would live exclusively on pasta, pizza and milkshakes if he could. He often eats a lot in one meal but then very little (unless what he is offered is delicious). He rarely has breakfast at home, preferring a croissant or donut at school. He often lives with intense feelings of hunger until he can find something tasty and delicious. When he finds this, for example a box of cookies, he will eat these until he has satisfied his hunger. Unsurprisingly John is putting on weight but he is also experiencing frequent headaches. In addition his last health check showed that his blood cholesterol levels are above the normal range. His family have decided to consult a team of specialists on health, physical activity and nutrition.

 

The Pedagogical Case

The benefits of regular exercise on health are numerous but while John’s parents, and John himself even, are aware of this they all sit alongside a suggested 65% of European citizens who are not physical active enough. Taking a sport and exercise psychology perspective Adamakis and colleagues argue that it’s time to look at the factors that potentially lie behind this from a social-cognitive perspective (i.e. one influenced by social interactions, experiences, and outside media influences) rather than a mechanistic-behavioural one (i.e. cause and effect).

Adamakis and colleagues suggest that John displays low motivation and low levels of interest in physical activity. Drawing on self-determination theory they suggest that his lack of interest and self-motivation could be as a consequence of an unfulfilled need for autonomy, competence and relatedness. In other words John needs to feel that he has choice, he can ‘do it’ (which he didn’t feel in Karate), and that it is relevant to him. Positive changes in all of these areas might help John to sustain his participation in a sport or exercise activity of his choice.

Choice is important in physical activity and the chance to express personal opinions, engage in the decision-making process and set goals are ways of providing choice. John, however, doesn’t always have choice and while he might want to spend more time away from his studies his parents don’t share his opinion. They “are key supporters of his academic achievements but they pay little attention to health behaviours”. Consequently, John is learning that certain things are valued (i.e. work) and certain things aren’t (i.e. physical activity) all of which has the very real potential to impact on his future drive to be physically active.

One of the consequences of John’s lifestyle has been the accumulation of excess body weight which, in turn, “makes participation in sport and exercise programs increasing difficult”. Given his age, and looking through a physical activity lens, it has been shown to be important that John needs to identify himself as someone who eats well and exercises before the barriers inherent in adulthood (i.e. “reduced leisure time, increased career concerns, and other barriers) may result in further barriers to developing a healthy lifestyle”.

While John has been active in the past he has “difficulty self-identifying as an exercise-schematic person, i.e. one who rates exercise behaviour as critical for his self-image”. While his sedentariness is not fixed he should makes changes while he can. This, however, is made more difficult because of his immaturity and inability to control large periods of his daily activity. It is therefore important that the whole family are helped to understand the advantages of physical activity. They are driven by a desire for high academic achievement and yet unaware of the links that are being made between frequent aerobic exercise and high levels of school achievement.

Adamakis and colleagues suggest that a multidimensional intervention could be used to help John and his family.

  • An educational program could “explain the ways in which the human system adapts to exercise, how cardiovascular risk factors could be reversed, and evidence that increased physical activity can ameliorate a wide range of chronic health problems”.
  • By reconnecting John to the sporting environment he can learn to take responsibility for his own behaviour. By reinforcing his sense of autonomy, by offering choice etc., and helping him find time to play with his friends exercise might cease to be a chore (both in and out of school) and be something John wants to be engaged in.
  • Increased physical activity in everyday life, such as active travel (which he does because he walks to school) and an environment that creates numerous opportunities to be active can all help. That said it is not the sole responsibility of the family and school can provide a “unique environment for tailoring children’s food choices.”

Nutritionally, Adamakis and colleagues argue, there are significant steps that John and his family could take to help. Teachers may influence children’s eating behaviours and can act as role models in, for example, terms of fruit and vegetable consumption. Schools are also well positioned to provide important nutritional information as well as being places where children can be exposed “to new tastes and foods, as well as to healthy eating.” Misconceptions that eating healthily means eating bland food can also be challenged and the idea that small changes are needed rather than dramatic unsustainable ones can also be supported.

The family will need to be involved if they are going to help John and while it is often difficult to “acknowledge the level of their contribution to nutrition and physical activity issues” they need support in understanding this. They need to see that John’s weight and diet present some health concerns but they also need help to make changes themselves. Strategies like “eating meals together as a family, ensuring vegetables are serve as part of most meals, limiting the consumption of ready-to-eat or convenience foods, and promoting the preparation and cooking of healthy meals” have all been shown to be effective.

It is evident that while John might still like to play football or basketball he has drifted away from these activities. Pedagogically, Adamakis and colleagues suggest, there is a need to move away from the traditional coaching orientation to physical education and focus instead on one that values teaching. The authors argue that those with a coaching orientation focus “primarily on motor skills and sport perfectionism” while those with a teaching orientation help students to “read” their physical environment and needs and react to these “readings” appropriately. By emphasizing the non-competitive aspects of sport activities and the social aspects young people like John are more inclined to become and remain involved. He is not excluded and doesn’t feel that his performance is holding him back – after all he isn’t an athlete and shouldn’t be treated as one.

Physical education cannot be the only activity that promotes physical activity but an education system (both at home and school) that continues to see the superiority of human intelligence over the inferiority of the body will continue to abandoned physical activity at a time when exams need to be passed and careers built. We need to work hard to enhance health and well-being but “professional educators must [also] go beyond the reductionist logic of “energy intake, energy consumption” and better understand how the forms that that energy takes affect our health.

 

 

 

What’s next? As part of this blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor. Her help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.

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