Remaining active for life

N Ramesh

“Our whole life is an education – we are ‘ever-learning”1

In this article I am going to take you through my journey as an athletics coach. I will talk about physical fitness as well as other “substantive aspects” of physical education – emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual – which, if rightly taught will help in the holistic development of every child. By this I mean, the child will have improved physical fitness and tactical efficiency2 where he/she is able to face and solve problems, develop a positive attitude, dedication and devotion towards fitness, and build an optimum level of aspiration. More than ever, India is in need of leaders who are not just physically fit but also emotionally and mentally fit.

According to Col. Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore, Minister of State in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (as of March 2019), “The youth comprises a major population of the Indian subcontinent and the role of PE is to develop physical fitness – it is important to be physically fit for all age groups to live a better life to the fullest and enjoy all the opportunities.” This is very much in alignment with the main objective behind physical education programmes in schools, which is to enhance the physical capabilities of every child through exposure to varied physical activities and to cultivate an understanding of physical literacy. According to the IPLA (International Physical Literacy Association), “Being physically literate means to have the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engaging in physical activities for life”3. I have noticed over the years that once children understand physical literacy, they participate in physical activities even after school.

Awareness about PE career prospects
Though we are witnessing a shift in the way people perceive physical education, there remains a lack of understanding among the larger community about what exactly this subject comprises. Despite this change in attitude, physical education is still relegated to the peculiar orbit of ‘extra-curricular’ activities. There is a need to raise awareness about sports as a career and also a life-skills development tool. Physical education is not just about winning or losing. This is a narrow perception. Any sport – be it cricket, gymnastics or any other game, it is always a journey and requires a huge amount of physical and mental effort to reach a certain level where children can participate in competitions. These days most parents drive their children to take up sport to keep them engaged, away from harmful behaviour like drugs and other addictions. Unfortunately, however, the same parents later coax their children to give up sports for the sake of academics. I have often come across children who could have become national level players, however were forced to give up their passion for sports and compelled to join engineering because “it is considered safer to secure a degree in hand than to lose in the game.” To all children and parents, I quote Swami Vivekananda, “You will be nearer to heaven if you play football rather than reading the Bhagavad Gita,” because you will fall, you will rise and thus you will learn. But having said that, I would also like to stress that making people aware of the sports quota alone does little to help the cause of pursuing sports as a career. There is an urgent need for people to be aware of the various avenues that can be pursued from a sports coach, team manager, umpire/referee, sports journalist to a sports psychologist and more.

A multi-disciplinary subject
Physical education is universally relevant to all irrespective of the profession – from a doctor to a teacher; a holistically fit individual is better at carrying out his or her daily tasks and responsibilities than an unfit individual. Over the years, PE has evolved as a multi-disciplinary subject and today it is not confined to physical fitness and knowledge of the rules of games and team sports, or some physical education activities at school. The current syllabus equips learners with knowledge, soft skills, human values, and the motivation to maintain and carry on with a healthy lifestyle. Today, PE teaching requires me also to be interdisciplinary in my method and approach. Alongside the core subject areas of games and sports as a cultural heritage, health education and wellness and talent identification and training, my classes also delve into science, biology, genetics, psychology and sociology.

Reflections as a coach
I often reflect upon why I became a coach. And I have come to realize that besides the fact that I was really passionate about sports and won a lot of medals, it was mainly because of the positive experiences I had during my PE classes that inspired me to teach the subject. So I consciously make an effort on and off the field to create a positive experience for my students. Students learn better when they are inspired.

Taking this thought forward, I try to engage with parents and community leaders in physical activity. Over the years of teaching sports, I have learnt that people share knowledge about the benefits of physical activity; develop awareness about opportunities to be physically active, and overcome barriers and negative attitudes that exist about exercise. This approach has helped me to lay a sound foundation for health and wellness. This method has made it possible for me to equip my students with practical knowledge to prevent most of the bodily malfunctions which often results from physical inactivity.

According to “Teaching Physical Education in Secondary School” by Margaret Whitehead and Susan Capel, teaching is a complex, multifaceted activity; and effective teaching is achieved by blending what is being taught (the content) and why and how it is being taught (the instructional process).

What is taught in PE is guided by the aim of the curriculum and how it is taught is guided by the teacher’s instructional strategies.

These questions have enabled me to reflect upon teaching practices or instructional strategies. I will suggest to all PE teachers to consider these questions every now and then:

  • Do all students enjoy games in every school year?
  • How many students choose to continue to participate in games, or non-competitive or individual activities when they leave school?
  • Do they feel encouraged to carry on their learnings in PE to remain active for life?

According to research done in LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development)4, 70 per cent of kids drop out of sports before their high school graduation. Only 15% leave because they feel they are not good enough. Almost 70% leave because they were not having fun, or due to problems with the coach. Injuries also cause 30% to give up sports. The solution is to try and successfully retain young athletes and develop their potential while avoiding injury and overtraining. Begin by examining the multi-dimensional nature of coaching, the relevant sport motor performance abilities, the impact of growth and development on motor skills, the gene versus practice controversy and briefly examine the body structure strengthened through training. Then explore the athlete’s energy supply, where this energy comes from, and how it matures along with the athlete. Finally, examine the development of strength, power, anaerobic capacity, coordination and flexibility through the life span.

My learnings
Here I’d like to talk about few real-life instances during my association with the “Khel Udaan Project”. I met J.Deepthi from Warangal, Telangana during one of her matches in Khammam. She was extremely poor and couldn’t afford her bus fare to come to Hyderabad for training. She somehow managed to reach Hyderabad and I enrolled her in the Gopichand Academy under their Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. Her eventual performance stands as testimony to my belief in her talent; J.Deepthi won a silver in the relay and bronze in the 200m in her first international meet – the Youth Asian Meet (under-18) in Hong Kong. The other success story is that of N.Sreenivas from Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, who defied all odds to win a silver in the 200m and gold in the relay in Hong Kong. Sreenivas achieved this while taking care of a paralytic father and a mother with a broken leg. Under this CSR initiative, I met many such athletes and learnt that we as PE teachers and coaches must not let talent go waste because of financial or any other constraints.

According to the concept of “Jeevan Vidya”, advocated by Pradeep Ramancharla, Professor and Registrar at IIIT5, Hyderabad, most often, teachers at the school and college level dump knowledge into a child’s brain without explaining how to use that knowledge for practical purposes. The outcome is an “exceptionally confused individual” who passes out from college, is besieged with the pressure of finding a job, is expected to take up responsibilities on his own, and get settled by age 27; the tasks to build a life proceed. We as teachers don’t teach “how to face life” in our classes. After 20 years of rigorous education, shouldn’t a person know how to manage his emotional life or make a quick decision? Why do majority of the graduates these days lack in these fundamental abilities or life skills? Are we failing to teach them “how to lead a happy life?”

Fundamental reform: Interdisciplinary approach
Over time as a coach, I have seen that the current education culture cultivates a consumption-oriented meaning of happiness. Today people think happiness originates from buying things. If truth be told, happiness originates from our perceptions and has little to do with our purchasing power. As mentioned earlier, I teach physical literacy which helps my students lead a happy life by staying healthy and active throughout their lives. This is also the major long-term goal of the PE syllabus and it’s best to address it at the earliest at the school level itself.

As PE teachers, we should consider adopting the interdisciplinary approach. We should consider collaborating with other subject teachers to integrate core subjects with physical activity. To get other teachers on board, you may like to quote from recent research which has clearly proved that physical activity is an essential link to learning and thinking processes. To quote, “Interest is directed to the learner who learns better and absorbs information, as well as passes this information from their short-term memory to their long-term memory more efficiently, through movement … stated that motion develops muscle balance, an important element in the development of speech, reading, and thought.”6

This demands a fundamental reform in PE delivery as well as a change in the behaviour and attitude of people.

References

  1. Edward Paxton Hood, Self-Education: Twelve Chapters for Young Thinkers, 1852
  2. NCF-NCERT Guidelines for Physical Education
  3. IPLA
  4. Long Term Athlete Development – Research paper
  5. Jeevan Vidya – Pradeep Ramancharla, IIIT
  6. Interdisciplinary Teaching in Physical Education, Despina Kaittani, Olga Kouli, Vassiliki Derri, and Efthymios Kioumourtzoglou

The author is an athletics coach from the Sports Authority of India and a recipient of the prestigious Dronacharya Award. He can be reached at [email protected].

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