Why Prioritise Meaningful Engagement in Physical Activity Settings with Children and Young People?

Multi-coloured balloons, beanbags, bouncing balls and play equipment such as slides and swings in the park hold the promise of movement adventures that entice and encourage movement responses from young children.  Starting children on the path to lifelong participation is usually relatively easy.  Supporting and encouraging children to sustain a commitment to physical activity participation as they grow towards adulthood, however,  is proving a significant challenge for physical education (PE) and sport professionals.  The reality we need to face is that high dropout rates in PE and youth sport are closely tied to participants being unable to find relevance in current programs.  Some argue that the damning evidence of the ineffectiveness of some of our approaches requires a radical overhaul of the types of opportunities made available to young people today in PE and sport programs.  In line with approaches that prioritise the voices of children in decision-making about their participation we propose an emphasis on the concept of ‘meaningful’ participation (defined in earlier posts) as a priority goal in youth physical activity settings.  We argue that an individual is more likely to seek to repeat a physical activity experience that they find personally meaningful.  Noticing the significance of movement experiences in enhancing the quality of their daily lives may encourage young people to sustain physical activity involvement by promoting the habit and persistence seen in lifelong commitment to physical activity participation.  Creating physical activity experiences that children and young people ascribe as meaningful requires a pedagogical approach grounded in listening and responding to children’s perspectives.  Young people are consistent in telling us what they value through physical activity experiences: participating with their friends, being challenged, having fun, and learning.  Such guidance provides a starting point for teachers and coaches to design physical activity experiences that allow young people to engage meaningfully in physical activity as the basis for their continued, hopefully lifelong, participation.


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