When Forrest Gump ran for the first time there was a perception that he couldn’t but he would be the exception and not the rule. Because running is something that a child learns to do at such an early age there is an assumption that they don’t need to be taught. If that was the case in all areas of life why would we teach children to read and write when they can already converse. Or why do we correct their language when they make a mistake? Why? Because there is a difference between doing something and doing it well. Don’t we need to start applying the same understanding to those young people we would like to be physically active but who lack the ‘vocabulary’ to be so?
Volume 2.19 (Blog 114):
Lemoyne, J., Lachance, E., & Poulin, C. (2014). Marianne: Training, running efficiently, and staying motivated. In K.M. Armour (ed.) Pedagogical cases in physical education and youth sport (pp. 247-262). London: Routledge.
Marianne hasn’t been involved in any type of organised sport or physical activity outside of school since she was five. At 16 she is well educated enough to know that this isn’t great and she also knows that the extra weight she carries and the resultant body image dissatisfaction she has might ‘go away’ if she was a little more active. The simple fact is she lacks the motivation to take the first step. She has little or no interest in taking regular exercise and while some of her friends do, it is a perceived lack of time, energy and motivation that is holding her back.
Significantly, from a physical education perspective, Marianne isn’t the only girl in her class who lack interest in physical activity and her teacher is trying out a new way of engaging his students. He has decided to encourage all of his students to participate in a 5-kilometre run and is using lesson time to help prepare them for this undertaking. He is engaging them in running/walking and trying to encourage them to be active out-of-class (at lunchtime and after school) as well.
Listening to her teacher Marianne thinks this is an interesting opportunity to become more active and get in shape but she doesn’t feel any confidence that she complete the run. She has no idea how she will be active out of class and feels she knows very little about jogging and running. What’s more the task seems very hard and she is yet to be convinced that her teacher can motivate her enough to change her behaviours in the long term.
The Pedagogical Case
The weight of expectation might fall heavily on Marianne but the key ‘player’ that Lemoyne and colleagues highlight in this paper is the physical education teacher. He needs to position himself as someone who can help his students to “develop the necessary skills that can be transferred outside the physical education class”. This means that he needs to be sensitive to the potential risks of running and be aware that while it is common to assume that children and adolescence can run they don’t always understand how, and/or be able, to run for sustained periods.
Drawing on the knowledge bases of exercise physiology, biomechanics, and motivational psychology this pedagogical case seeks to highlight different aspects of running that might be of significance to Marianne and her class. Significantly, the authors start from the premise that “despite its simplicity as a motor task [running] is, in many respects, very effort consuming”. For many people – included young women like Marianne – this is an important and yet often overlooked facet of this and many other popular types of physical activity.
Beginning from an exercise physiology perspective Lemoyne and colleagues argue that running is “subject to dose-response relationships because the more people run, the more the benefits they get”. While these benefits, which include “decreasing systemic blood pressure, improving body weight control, as well as improving some blood parameters such as glycaemia control, triglycerides, and cholesterol”, they are not easily achieved. Indeed, much like running itself, the sustained physical activity habit needed to enjoy these benefits is not a simple task.
Fundamentally, as the authors describe, Marianne, and those positioned to influence her (such as her teacher), need to understand different types of training and aspire to move from acute exercise intentions and undertakings (i.e.. a single bout of exercise) to chronic exercise behaviour (i.e. several bouts of exercise during several weeks). It is only the latter that will allow Marianne to benefit from the number of physiological changes known as adaptation. That said adaption is only one of five major training principals that need to be considered here; the others being specificity, overload, recovery, and reversibility.
- Specificity – training for running (in this case) that involves a “running speed component”
- Overload – improvement induced by working beyond “customary intensity”
- Recovery – taking time to recover from training i.e. rest days
- Adaptation – Occurs in the recovery period and is seen as an increase in strength or ability in response to training.
- Reversibility – the understanding that improvement generated by training may be lost if training does not remain chronic.
In order for Marianne to prepare well for the 5-kilimetere run she needs to ensure that she takes time to make steady progressions in “duration, intensity, frequency and – as a result – volume of training”. She must learn how to progress and how manage her progression and she will need help from her physical education teacher to understand and ensure that this is a gradual and personally appropriate process.
As Marianne engages in this process there are a number of biomechanical ideas that she and her teacher might wish to consider. Firstly, and because running is one of the most popular activities in the world, we know that it is seen as an activity that is easy to integrate into most lifestyles and is relatively low cost”. Lemoyne and colleagues also tell us that, unfortunately, as participation rates have increased so injured rates have kept pace. To help Marianne avoid injury it is important that she is helped to understand that there are a number of factors that might adversely impact on her well-being. The primary cause of injury is “simply doing too much, too fast and too soon. Other factors, such as the type of training and the running surface, can also negatively impact on runners.
Ideas like starting gradually, alternating between running and walking and developing, and looking to improve over a number of weeks and a number of sessions per week can all help. While the suggestion (and often the assumption) is that running is biomechanically simple there are some areas that Marianne and her teacher could look at. He running technique – especially her head and shoulders, her use of her arms, the positioning of her hips and her footstrike – are all aspects that they could look at. The key is to “instruct runners to land [i.e. footstrike] naturally under their hips, pulling the ground backwards”.
Alongside the biomechanical and physiological aspects of running is the challenge that Marianne faces to stay motivated. She is far from alone, as an adolescent girl, in finding it “difficult to feel motivated to exercise regularly.” Lemoyne and colleagues suggest that her teacher consider the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB). TPB is a “belief-based model suggesting that behaviour is directly influenced buy the intentions about performing a specific behaviour”. In Marianne’s case her TPB is not, at least in the first instance, her intention to run the 5-kilometres but her intention to participate in three or more walking/jogging/running sessions. The authors suggest that three categories of belief influence intentions: attitudes, social beliefs, and perceived behaviour control.
- Attitudes – How does Marianne value running instrumentally (i.e. as good for her health) and affectively (in that she doesn’t really enjoy it).
- Social Beliefs – How does Marianne act ‘appropriately’ in the eyes of different social groups such as parents, peers and teachers?
- Perceived Behaviour Control – How might she establish some sort of perceived control over internal factors (such as self-efficacy) and external forces (such as lack of time, or fear of getting injured).
If Marianne is able to develop a strong intention to jog/run and can adopt and maintain chronic exercise patterns the she is more likely to achieve her goal. If she can maintain and develop her intrinsic motivation (i.e. her pleasure and personal satisfaction) then she stands a better chance of increasing her “participation in regular exercise”.
To achieve this the teacher needs to think pedagogically about Marianne’s case. It is important that he tries to organise “a positive learning environment for each of his pupils” which will be particularly challenging in the case of girls like Marianne who is rarely active and who doubt their capabilities. The first challenge is acknowledging that running isn’t as simple as we (as a profession) often assume and therefore will require a sequence of learning activities to be devised. It also needs to be acknowledged that this will take time (ten weeks perhaps). While this might seem like a long time it is important to remember that aspects such as progressions and adaptation will help Marianne to be successful.
The first three weeks, Lemoyne and colleagues argue, will be vital for the physical education teacher as he needs to convince his students to get involved in the 5-kilometre run. He will need to convince them of the many benefits and focus, individually on helping the students to take part in regular physical activity. This needs to be both appropriate and attainable based on current ability and may well, in Marianne’s case, involve an adequate proportion of running interspersed with short walking”. From there different development phases can be used to prepare the students initially for the run and then for physical activity beyond the run.
The biggest take home message from this chapter is that we have been naïve to think that because running is simple from the perspective of motor control it should be simple for every student. I would not be alone in being both the student and teacher in this scenario and now realise how far from the mark I fell in terms of my use of running in the curriculum. I honestly don’t think I really taught running until the last couple of years of my teaching career and wonder how many students saw it as something they never wanted to do again. Students, like Marianne, who simply had their belief that they couldn’t, or didn’t want to, run confirmed. Isn’t it time we did something about that?
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.