7. Reflecting on the element of 'Physical Literacy' within my PE Program

“Everyone has the potential to value, develop and maintain positive physical activity behaviors for life” Sport AUS

Have you ever stopped and assessed your own Physical Literacy? As an adult, what skills are you willing and comfortable with, to go out and display in public or do you have confidence in? Do you adopt the ‘physical activity is an opportunity, not as inconvenience’ adage within your daily lifestyle or give credit to the importance of Physical Activity within your life? I would assume most reading this would be PE teachers and live a fairly active life, but then the question comes, how do you ensure your students grow to be adults that adopt a healthy, physically active lifestyle?

While living out of a caravan for the past few weeks/months, I have found myself battling this topic within my own head and questioning myself along the way. I have found myself pursuing physical activities out of my comfort zone at times, while other times I am happy to display the skills that I possess. Throughout this, I have been questioning where I developed these skills and cognitive beliefs, while also asking myself how well I build these within my PE program and if I have in fact given my students the best tools to develop their own Physical Literacy.

Before I begin, I should refer to the definition of Physical Literacy, which as stated on Sport AUSis about building the skills, knowledge and behaviours that give us the confidence and motivation to lead active lives.” It breaks physical literacy into 4 domains, being the Physical, Psychological, Social and the Cognitive. To find out more, this brief video will give you a great snapshot: https://www.sportaus.gov.au/physical_literacy

The first domain of Physical Literacy, as outlined by Sport AUS, is the ‘Physical’, which relates to the physical skills and fitness based movements that we possess. It refers to being able to move our body, move with equipment, object manipulation and a number of fitness components, such as agility, strength, speed and coordination, among others. The main part of this that I have found myself questioning, of myself, are my Fundamental Movement Skills. I am confident to grab any form of ball or bat, and have a go at a sport. It may not necessarily lead to instant success, but I am confident that I can have a fair crack. But it made me question, how and where did these skills develop?

It popped into my head while at a Dog Park in Lakes Entrance, as I grabbed a Tennis racquet out of the car and started smashing a ball as far as I could, much to the appreciation of one of my furry friends. (Quick side note, if you ever get to Lakes Entrance and have dogs with you, be sure to check this place out Brackenbush Dog Park) It dawned on me that I didn’t really recall using Tennis racquets within PE as a kid and therefore wondered how the skill truly developed. Further to this, the previous day I had been at the same place and throwing the ball, to which an elderly onlooker kindly mentioned ‘oh, you’re very good at throwing’. Again, I don’t recall spending time learning to throw in PE, although I am sure we did. What I did think however, is I spent a bit of time as a kid doing Tennis lessons and spent many years, from a young age to adulthood, playing Baseball, both for local clubs. This led me to ask myself, were these FMS learnt from PE or were they in fact learnt from my experience with both Tennis and Baseball clubs?

I believe, and I think most PE teachers strive to do this, that I was given a taste of these skills within PE and decided to pursue these within my own time due to the enjoyment that I gained from them.

But there was also more of an influence in gaining these skills. My mum grew up playing Tennis and liked to encourage us to take it up so that we could play with her at times. My PE teacher was heavily involved in the Baseball club that I played for, so he encouraged myself and many of my friends to go and play. He also happened to get my older brother to play, so there was another family connection. When I sit and type this and consider what other sports family members have played, I think of my pa, who loved Australian Football. He played and I dare say he influenced me to play, which I still do today, but again, I don’t recall lining up drop punts within PE lessons.

I guess this whole reflection process has got me thinking about how I assist students to begin their Physical Literacy journey and how do I encourage it through the influence that I have within my role as a teacher. Reflecting on the above, I am not sure if I followed that sporting journey due to my experiences within PE or due to the attitudes towards those sports of the people around me in influential positions, or was it a combination of both?

These internal questions led to me then assessing the PE program that I deliver. I believe that we cover a number of the FMS really well and contextualize it to the school community. What I have reflected upon however, is by asking myself ‘how do I encourage students to pursue these skills outside of school’ or further assist in building their Physical Literacy?

After finishing a lesson where we do some kicking or throwing, or after finishing a Net & Wall unit, if students have thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I actually have not passed on any information about local clubs and how they can continue to pursue that skill or sport. Every now and then a local club will send a promotional flyer out and I will put it up on a window to display, but I wonder how many students actually look at it. I have also had a variety of clubs representatives come out through the ‘Sporting Schools’ initiative, in which sport-specific coaches come out and run a lesson and often represent a local club and encourage students to sign up, but that’s probably as far as it has gone.

Reflecting on how I can address this, when returning to school I think I can make a few adjustments that will assist in better connecting my PE program with the local sporting community.

  • Create a board that has information for local sporting clubs and actively refer to it when the time is right.

  • Following a unit, such as a Net & Wall unit, include a breakdown of all the local ‘Net & Wall’ based clubs that are available locally.

  • Highlighting in the school newsletter the above, so that parents can be aware of the information as well.

Through doing this, I believe I will potentially be able to ignite students' passion for a sport through introducing them to various skills & concepts, but also guide them in the direction of continuing to pursue that sport if they choose to do so and hopefully building the ‘physical’ component of their Physical Literacy.

The next domain of Physical Literacy is the ‘psychological’, which looks at “the attitudes and emotions a person has towards movement and the impact they have on their confidence and motivation to move.” (Sport AUS). Just as the ‘physical’ domain is, this section is again broken into various areas, such as ‘engagement & enjoyment’, ‘confidence’, ‘motivation’, and others. I feel within my program that I have done these well through the way in which lessons are structured. I love implementing gamification, differentiating activities so that the lower achieving students can experience success in a way that is challenging for them, while at the same time, in the same activity, higher achieving students can do the same. I also avoid elimination games as I feel that these games simply place the more talented students above others, and while it may boost the motivation of the top 10% within the class because they may win, I don’t think that it does any favours to the confidence or the enjoyment of those in the other 90%.

However, something within this section that I believe I can improve on is ‘connection to place’, which refers to “appreciation and connection to the environment, both built and natural in relation to movement and physical activity "(Sport AUS). I am very fortunate to have an amazing gym (full size basketball court) which houses a number of dual-system air conditioners, power for music, the PE storeroom etc. However, these luxuries create a weakness within my program which is my own fault - I have become too comfortable in using this environment. As a goal for next year, I want to challenge myself to use the outdoors more often in order to create greater connections with the natural environment. Early on in my career I made the most of nearby Tennis Courts and the local footy oval, but I have fallen into the trap of just using the convenient space. Through doing this too, it directly relates with the goal of linking lessons with local sporting clubs and will help students gain a greater understanding of the local sporting community they have access to.

The next section of Physical Activity refers to ‘Social’ and is seen as how individuals interact with others through movement. It is broken into 4 sub-categories, being ‘relationships’, ‘collaboration’, ‘ethics’ and ‘society and culture’. I believe the first 3 sections strongly under-pin my current program. While some areas are explicitly taught at the beginning of the year, these 3 areas are always covered through dialogue at the beginning or end of a session, or as something arises within a lesson, such as sportsmanship, team work, including others within games or conflict resolution. The area within this section that I believe I could improve is the section that relates to ‘society and culture’.

Through this section of ‘physical literacy’, I think I can incorporate a greater understanding within students of world cultures and the different games that other countries play, in order to become more worldly citizens and understand different cultural traditions eg. Traditional Indigenous Games or Gaelic Football.

The final component that is seen to complete ‘Physical Literacy’ is that of the ‘cognitive’, which arguably is the most important and is defined as “a person’s understanding of how, why and when they move” (Sport AUS). This section includes some sub-categories that are great fun to teach through the Sport Education model or through TGfU, such as ‘Rules’, ‘Perceptual Awareness’, ‘Strategy & Planning’, ‘Tactics’ and ‘Reasoning’. It also includes an area that I want to address more explicitly when I return to teaching which is ‘Content Knowledge’, seen as ‘factual knowledge a person can understand and convey; often important in recognition, recall and planning” (Sport AUS).

Throughout lessons and units this is no doubt touched on and discussed, but not explicitly taught to students in a way that they could walk away and state a fact about Physical Activity at the dinner table when they get home, such as how many minutes exercise they should do every day or what happens to their body when they exercise. We often have a general discussion around sweating or how and why our breathing/heart rate increase, but I feel this area of my program could be improved, along with the ‘why’ physical activity is important and the benefits that it brings.

Previously, I had the opportunity to cover this content by teaching a ‘health’ lesson once a week within classrooms, which was awesome, but unfortunately that stopped and I have not integrated it well into my PE program, where there is probably a larger explicit focus on the ‘physical’, with the other sections being underpinned through conversations, reflections and anecdotes throughout lessons.

It is through this reflection that I wish to make a number of adjustments to my program for next year in order to build individuals that will have a greater sense of Physical Literacy as they progress into their teenage years.

I hope this blog has helped you in some way, be it an idea to implement into your program or has provoked you to question your program and the way in which you implement or address Physical Literacy.

This is an honest & critical reflection and obviously highlights weaknesses within my program, something that I am sure we all have in some regard. To post this, I did feel somewhat anxious and nervous, but I feel through admitting the weaknesses, I may be able to connect with others and devise plans in which those weaknesses can be addressed or may be able to assist others that feel their weakness lay somewhere where I have found a strength. If you have ideas on how to address these or already implement something to great effect, I would love to hear it!

I hope I have provoked some form of positive thought for you. Feel free to reach out with your thoughts via the comments section below, Twitter or email at headsuphpe@gmail.com

Thank you for reading!

For more information on Physical Literacy, I encourage you to head to https://www.sportaus.gov.au/physical_literacy and explore the available resources.

**I must state that this reflection was written with a COVID-Free program in mind. In my current relaxed state while on sabbatical leave, I blissfully forgot about the year in which we have all experienced as educators.