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  • annabelchaffey

PE - Physical Education, personal evolution & powerful educators

Back in March 2021 I was asked by InspireU to share some of my thoughts on why PE can be so powerful in supporting the all round development of young people. Check out the original post here:

Or read on to see what what I had to say...

The following article has been written by the amazing Annabel Chaffey. Annabel is an ex-international athlete and Youth Olympic athlete who is passionate about sharing the value of sport & education combined. She now works for a Management Consultancy specialising in Leadership Development & High Performance.

It’s easy, as someone passionate about sport, to spout praises for the value of students taking part in Physical Education lessons and the benefits this can bring to an individual. I’d like to think that we’re now also in a place with our education system where benefits from physical activity and sport are universally accepted, with some as a by-product from the direct physical benefits, even if different value is placed on said benefits. What I think is still worth bringing to the debate is just what these benefits might be. From personal experience, they can be wide ranging and unexpected but for me some stand out as fundamental and then key to life as an adult beyond education. When we think about rebuilding our lives from this current chapter of disruption and challenge, I hope that PE is recognised as vital in supporting our young people make sense of this time, breathe and enjoy the lives they’ve regained.

Having participated in a multitude of school sports opportunities it was a central part of my adolescence and made up a huge part of my identity at the time. So aside from enjoying the energy release and being good at many of the physical skills required, I relished the opportunity to put into practice softer skills that weren’t necessarily acquired or required in the classroom. There are the obvious skills such as teamwork, cooperation, a first foray into leadership, as well as many more. Less obvious ones can be around personal charisma and presentation and the confidence to engage with new people.

However, if we take these as definite and obvious outputs or lessons from sport, why are they so important and why, as the title of this article suggests, are they about so much more than PE as a lesson? Developing these skills in an active way from a young age is fundamental in shaping how we evolve into adults and into the individuals we all are. A large part of functioning as an adult will require you to operate with others, cooperating, challenging, leading and working together as a team. Obvious some might say. What is not so obvious is just how tricky these skills can be to master. As a professional who now supports organisations in tackling some of these challenges, it is clear that some people really struggle to understand them and then apply them. There’s a reason why sports metaphors land so well in explaining them. It’s relatable. For example, at some point we all have experienced school sport, working in a team with people both more and less skilled than us, and had to make it work. Sounds familiar in the workplace too, hey? It is why PE as a fundamental lesson at school is so important in allowing the personal evolution of our young people. It creates a practice environment to explore personal relationships, power dynamics and conflict or confrontation in a way that we can relate to our day to day life without permanently damaging relationships outside of that environment. Most people in business would love that opportunity; to have a dry run at a performance conversation, difficult conversation or leadership role.

The opportunity for skills practice that aren’t just physical is crucial as we evolve; every single job will require an element of skill that isn’t role based or specialised – it will require ‘people skills’; something often sniffed at. This brings me onto the next PE that I’d like to explore – the role of the ‘powerful educator’ (otherwise known as a teacher!) within this context. Some of my teachers were the most influential people I have ever known and shaped who I wanted to become as an adult. I am who I am today in part because of them, their guidance and the opportunities they gave me – and for the record it wasn’t just PE teachers that had this impact on me. So, what role do they play in encouraging physical activity and the skills it brings an individual? For me some of the most impactful lessons from other teachers were an affirmation of the soft skills learned in a PE lesson. Their impact being that they could be applied to a specialist subject; a confirmation that ‘soft skills’ were always worthy of being employed, understood and practiced. One such lesson was from my Chemistry teacher, Mr Bevan; ‘that you can’t eat an elephant in one go’ and how you had to approach revision in small chunks, working with others, to get through the whole course and get to being exam ready.

A metaphor beautifully brought to life by the hockey team I played in shouting ‘next five’ to each other in reference to focusing only on the next five minutes of a game when things weren’t going our way… we could only approach the match in small chunks, working together and eventually we would have hopefully won the match. There’s also the very real application of specialist areas to PE itself – biology, maths and physics can come into it amongst other topics. The power in the teacher comes from their ability to highlight the connections between subjects for the individuals to then follow and explore themselves. This, confirms that all subjects are worthwhile in understanding, utilising and sharing skills & learnings from all. From there I believe it helps people to evolve into well rounded individuals; we reach a point where all your lessons as a young person come with an understanding of how they are applicable even if they aren’t enjoyed.

To summarise I suppose that to me PE is about so much more than Physical Education. Don’t get me wrong the very literal purpose of the subject is very important but it’s the reach the subject has beyond just physical wellbeing that makes it fundamental. Fundamental to the creation of individuals who understand wellbeing, are informed and can interact with others in a constructive and positive manner that benefits more than just themselves; someone you might call a ‘good citizen’. All of that and more through the power of a PE lesson! I therefore, truly hope it is prioritised for our young people as we move down the road of a return to normality where these skills will be needed more than ever.

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