Competition for children – right or wrong?

Gareth Southgate has recently been appointed as the FA’s elite performance director and has raised serious concerns relating to coaching children and specifically the overly competitive environments in which they play. This is not news as such as many senior Premier League managers, such as Messrs Wenger, Mourinho and Ferguson have all questioned the English culture of early competitiveness and compared this to more progressive and developmental approaches used with young players on the continent.

It’s going to sound as if the record is stuck now, as I’ve raised this issue before, but how can so much opinion be completely out of sync with latest curricular trends that propose a PE curriculum that increases emphasis on competition? I’m afraid to say that such is the influence of personal perspectives of politicians on our subject area of PE that we stand on the precipice of an era that has the potential to be even more damaging than John Major’s Raising the Game. The movement movement is under threat- if the emphasis is on competition the time spent on quality is often diminished; children are turned off by this lack of time to master movement before being asked to apply it. The proficiency barrier, whereby children can’t participate in certain activities due to their lack of basic fundamental movement skills, is highlighted further when children are asked to participate in static, sterile meaningless sports within adult-based competitive environments.

Whilst competition can be a useful environment in which to develop children with a self-referenced framework it worries me that an over reliance on such environments will stifle creativity and prevent a wider range of children participating. If the outcome is to improve performance, there is very little evidence to suggest that more competition will achieve this. Indeed, there is more evidence to suggest that strong participation routes will lead to more effective and refined performers entering the higher echelons of talent development pathways.

Returning to the starting point, isn’t it strange that the all-encompassing and extremely powerful national sport of football is so set against what is happening in schools PE – the tables seem to be turning.

Dr David Morley is Head of Education at ESP, a consultant for a range of national organisations and NGBs of sport, and holds Visiting Fellow positions at both Northumbria and Leeds Metropolitan Universities.

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The movement movement; it’s child’s play!

There is a movement happening around children’s development that has caught my eye recently and bodes well for future generations. We seem to becoming more aware of the developmental movement needs of children in the early stages of their development- some may say that this is just one of those cycles that comes round time and time again. I believe that sentiment to a certain extent but this time I think that it’s different; this particular movement movement seems deeper and more wide-ranging. From many examples, I will highlight two contexts that have contributed to me thinking this way in which I have had the pleasure of working in recently.

I have commented before on the benefits of a new UK Coaching framework that has children’s participation as one of four key pillars and that this has demanded that National Governing Bodies of sport think carefully about the differentiated provision for this specific audience within their ranks. I have recently completed the authoring (along with Bob Muir from Leeds Metropolitan University) of the newly introduced Level 1 coaching award (Becoming CAYPABLE) for the Rugby Football League (RFL) aimed specifically now at children’s coaches. The RFL made an expressed commitment to providing more movement-based opportunities to provide the foundation for subsequent participation and performance within rugby (http://www.therfl.co.uk/news/article/rfl-launch-new-level-1) . There has been a sacrifice here; there is perhaps not the same direct coverage of the core skills of rugby, but the RFL believe that this developmentally appropriate approach is right for their young players.

The new National Curriculum is beginning to take shape and I have recently been involved in a number of working groups that have been tasked to respond to the consultation papers that have been published in relation to Physical Education. An understandable starting point for groups to begin their reflections has been at Early Years and Key Stage 1 of a child’s education. Once again, there seems to be a consensus that developmentally appropriate movement experiences are paramount and form the foundation for lifelong participation in physical activity. Whereas the RFL have had issues of tradition and culture to address I have always felt that the subject area of Physical Education has been blighted by an over-reliance on activity areas, such as athletics, dance, gymnastics and particularly games, as the main delivery vehicle for the concepts that we feel are important to develop in children. The problem is now that the use of activity areas is so prominent that the wider developmental concepts, such as movement, have become relegated to an inferior position to the extent that the tail is wagging the dog! However, there does seem to be an acceptance that movement development and child-centred, rather than activity-centred, learning is more appropriate, particularly within the early, formative stages of a child’s development.

These two examples are both heartwarming and encouraging to me as a practitioner who is constantly searching for more inclusive and engaging forms of developmentally appropriate physical activity for children and young people. Of course, at the core of these new directions is the child’s right and need to play and what could be more simple and meaningful than that.

Dr David Morley is Head of Education at ESP, a consultant for a range of national organisations and NGBs of sport, and holds Visiting Fellow positions at both Northumbria and Leeds Metropolitan Universities.

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