But what about competition?  The role of challenge in meaningful physical education – Part II

As a physical education teacher or scholar, youth sport coach, or avid lover of physical activity, one might expect competition to hold a significant place in the meaningfulness of a student’s physical education experience. However, the literature suggests this may not be the case.  It seems physical education students hold various conceptualizations of competition.  In particular, some students suggest that competition in physical education is different to the type of “stressful competitiveness there is in team sports” (Gibbons & Gaul, 2009, p. 10).  Some students have also suggested that physical education is less fun when there is an overt focus on winning versus losing (Dyson, 1995).  Consequently, many students have expressed a desire to move away from competing against others and focus instead on “competing” against oneself (setting personal bests or achieving individual or small group goals). Even youth sport participants tend to find the meaningfulness of competition as resulting from forming friendships and challenging oneself rather than winning or losing.

Based on our review of literature on meaningful physical education and youth sport experiences, we suggest that, when teaching or coaching with meaningful experiences as a prioritized filter, an overt focus on the products of competition (in the sense of winning and losing) be minimized with a focus on individual challenge being favoured instead. We might be able to think about this as the processes of competition being favoured over the products. As mentioned in our previous post, this may include allowing students to set and achieve meaningful goals for themselves. For example, in one study, teachers provided students with goal-setting contracts.  These students set goals they perceived to be challenging, expressing a desire to “stretch themselves” (Dyson, 1995, p.398).  One of the perceived benefits of challenging themselves was “the possibility that a seemingly unattainable goal could become a reality” (p. 398).

Although competition certainly has a role in movement contexts (and even within meaningful movement experiences in some contexts), we suggest its role in physical education should be that of personal challenge. In our next post we will take a look at how the LAMPE team has been utilizing this idea of “just right” challenge.


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