12. Maximising Engagement through the Sport Education approach

Please note that this blog was written some time ago - hence the references to ‘remote learning’ - but has sat unpublished for over 12 months, but still holds plenty of relevance in regard to my Sport Ed. approach. 

Following two years of not teaching face-to-face in a consistent manner, something that I thoroughly missed was facilitating a Sports Education unit for the students within my school.

For those that are unaware, a Sports Education model aims to mimic a sports season/environment within the classroom setting. The way this works is students are ‘drafted’ or allocated onto a team that they will stay on for the duration of the season/unit - creating an affiliation to that team, as they would to a sporting club in the community. This is followed by training within that team, as well as playing ‘competitive’ games. Further to this, students are also exposed to undertaking a variety of “off-field” roles throughout this concept, such as umpiring, scoring, taking statistics, or commentating. 

The rationale behind this approach is that it offers students a wide-ranging list of potential learning opportunities, including, but not limited to:

Further to this, students also begin to appreciate the work that is involved in making their outside-of-school competitive sport take place - whether it be Basketball on a weeknight or Sunday morning Netball - they begin to identify the importance that the various ‘off-field’ roles have on the sporting environment that they participate in. 

While this blog post isn’t aimed at going into the finer details of why a ‘Sport Education’ model can benefit your students, it is important to have a basic understanding of what it is before continuing on. If you wish to learn more about the intricacies of the approach, I would strongly recommend checking this resource:

‘Complete Guide to Sport Education’ by Siedentop, Hastie & Van Der Mars (2004).

From here on out, I plan to talk about my experience with the Sport Education model, both how I was introduced to it and how I have successfully implemented it within my Primary school setting, which has evolved over time.

My first introduction to the Sport Education approach was back in my University days, at Monash, where our Sport & Outdoor Rec cohort was drafted into teams and would participate in a European handball competition each time we had class. It’s testing my memory, but I am pretty sure there was a ‘board of selectors’ that were in charge of creating teams that were fair, and we then had the opportunity to name our team in order to give ownership over our newfound group. Each time we had class, we would alternate the team ‘captain’, who was in charge of running the team through a warm-up activity, along with discussing different plays and strategies that we could implement as a team when playing in the competitive games. After the warm-up we would move into round-robin games, playing against other teams, and when it wasn’t our turn to play, we would umpire and score.

At the conclusion of the unit, and the Handball competition, we had a culminating ‘Grand Final day’. This, as per the Sport Ed. model, is an opportunity to celebrate the learning that has taken place throughout the experience. This often includes finals, awards, and can go as far as celebratory food that links with your chosen sport. For this day, we had food and drinks, and the two top sides played off in a Grand Final. We also had it filmed, and somewhere out there is footage of the game, with myself and a mate from Uni commentating the game. 

Participating in the unit was a fantastic way to teach us Uni students what the idea of ‘Sport Ed’ was all about. It was well organized and placed us in the center of the unit, which meant we had the opportunity to experience the approach just as our future students would. 

When I eventually got myself into a teaching role, giving the Sport Ed. approach a try was something I was super keen on. I loved the idea of the students being in teams, learning a new game, being able to coach and umpire themselves, the excitement of the colors, and potential chants for each team. The opportunities were endless.

When I finally found my first full-time job, I was pumped to see that within the school PE program, there was a designated time for a Sport Ed unit. However, something I found through my first few years of running a Sport Ed. unit was that it failed to live up to the heights I had experienced or expected, and the students didn’t seem to buy in as much as I had anticipated. 

I followed the script, in that students were split into fair teams, they had a roster for when they would umpire, coach and score. They had the opportunity to come up with team names, and chants, and chose a color to wear that represented their team. However, while they certainly enjoyed it, it didn’t gather the traction that I thought it would. 

In a way, remote learning may have been a savior to the way that I approached the Sport Education model, as it gave me the opportunity to start my Sport Ed approach completely afresh this year, and it was easily the most effective Sport Ed. program that I have run. 

I feel the success of this unit was set up in the month prior. Before even mentioning the idea of a ‘Sport Ed’ unit, students were introduced to a thematically themed ‘Territory Games’ unit, in which each week they would participate in small-sided games on a third of a Netball court, and play an adapted Territory game we called ‘End Ball’. The game was simple, no stepping, no contact, and trying to move a ball from one end of the court to the other, and score by having a player catch the ball in the end zone - which was over the end-line of the court. In lesson one of this unit, they were introduced to ‘Territory Games’ and the ‘End Ball’ game. During lesson two we discussed generic offensive tactics and strategies that teams could use within different Territory Games, which led into lesson three, where we discussed what defensive systems teams could put in place in order to stop the offensive tactics of the other team. In the final lesson, students had the opportunity to play and enjoy what they had learned, putting into practice various offensive and defensive strategies. Each week, students were randomly selected to play in different small-sided teams so that they had the chance to work with a variety of peers. 

Following this unit, we moved into our ‘Sport Ed’ program, in which students would compete in games of Netball (Year 5) and Handball (Year 6), with knowledge of the basic skills, tactics, and strategies that can be applied to Territory games. 

The first thing that needed to take place was placing the students into teams in order to create the ‘affiliation’ aspect of the Sport Ed approach. As mentioned previously, when participating in this unit at Uni, we had a ‘board of selectors’ that were in charge of this, which is a fantastic way to do it when you have the time and you are dealing with somewhat mature adults. However, running this within the primary setting and knowing what kids can be like, I like to take on the ‘board of selectors’ role myself (plus I enjoy it). To do this, I simply print off the class list and line up 3 different colored highlighters which represent each team. I then go through as if I am doing a draft, highlighting the first player picked in one color, the second player picked in another color, the third in the next color, and then reverse the order, continuing until every student is allocated to a team. The great thing about doing this as a teacher is you can also take into account the individual needs of students. We all know our students well, so through this method, you have the ability to split students that you know will distract each other, or pair students you know will work well together.

Further to this, I also pre-named the teams. This year the teams were the Phoenix, the Bees, and the Sharks. Each team had its own logo that I created on Canva, which was predominantly one color, which reflected the color of the bib that that team would wear eg. The Sharks had a blue logo and wore blue bibs every game. 

In a traditional sense, students would be given the opportunity to name their teams and potentially design their logo (Awesome opportunity here for a cross-curricula link). However, what I found from doing this previously was that each week I would forget the team names from class to class (I was running this across 8 different classes this year) and this would result in calling teams by their color, rather than the name. I felt that this took away from the experience, and therefore decided to make it simple for myself by using the same three names, colors, and logos across all classes. Even though the students didn’t have any input into the names, I did not feel that this took away from the experience in any way, and felt that affiliation went beyond their individual class, as students could often be heard talking to other students from other classes about what team they had been drafted to. 

Once students were made aware of their teams, each class would run in a consistent manner thereafter. Students would arrive, we’d say ‘g’day’, have a quick chat about any relevant information, and then they would break off into their teams for a 10 - 15 minute warm-up. During this time, each team was given their team bibs, a warm-up ball, and a whiteboard. They would then break off into a designated Netball third in order to;

Following the warm-up, the students would have the opportunity to play two games, while they would carry out relevant “off-field” roles when it wasn’t their time to play. 

Our off-field roles included umpiring (2), scoring (2), timekeeping, and commentating (1 - 2). Obviously, the world can be your oyster here and you can have an abundance of jobs (media, statisticians, trainers, etc) but I felt that these roles were enough. 

One aspect of this that worked incredibly well compared to when I have done it previously was allowing students to choose the role that they would carry out. Previously I had created a strict roster that said who was umpiring, scoring, etc. from week to week, and all students were expected to have a go at everything. This brought up a few issues, especially if students were away. With the new relaxed approach, students could not do the same role two weeks in a row, but had free choice within their teams to disperse the jobs amongst themselves, which often led to great discussions within their teams and cooperation that I hadn’t foreseen - such as guiding other students through roles or negotiating the opportunity to take on a specific role. 

When the students had the chance to play the games (Netball & Handball), the rules of each respective sport were adapted in order to increase participation in the game. As an example, in Netball, we modified positional rules, having 3 centers, along with 2 attackers and 2 defenders, and no wing positions. In European Handball students were limited to only taking a total of 10 steps, with a bounce after 5, meaning they had to pass to a teammate.

The games and off-field roles flowed incredibly well. The biggest difference I found from how I had previously run a Sport Ed. unit was that;

This approach, while it obviously doesn't have all the bells-and-whistles that a Sport Education unit has the potential of possessing, worked superbly in what I was trying to achieve. I found that a more relaxed approach - compared to what I had tried previously - gave the students much more ownership and voice over the unit, which in turn resulted in much more engagement. The students would constantly leave the lesson full of energy, enthusiasm, and desperation to continue playing the games - to the point that this unit finished up in Term 2, and I have just started Term 3 and am getting constant requests from the students to do it all again. 

I am no expert on the Sport Ed. approach, but am very passionate about it and thoroughly enjoy incorporating it within my PE program. If you’d like to see more examples and hear more of my work through the unit, you can view a recording of a presentation I did online for the PHASE Global online series here:Implementing a Sport Education unit in the Primary setting - PHASE

If you are interested to talk more, please feel free to reach out via email at headsuphpe@gmail.com or send a message on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to @HeadsUpHPE

Thanks for reading!