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Using a Season to Promote Fairness and Competition

This is an excerpt from Creative Physical Education by John Quay & Jacqui Peters.

Using a Season to Promote Fairness and Competition

A well-planned season can deliver a structure for fair competition. Both fairness and competition are required for a successful season. Yet for many teachers, competition is a bit of a dirty word, especially when it comes to physical education, because it can engender behaviours that are antisocial. However, we believe that in many physical education classes this is caused by a mismanagement of competition, particularly in the way competition is planned for.

Many physical education lessons do not involve ongoing teams or seasons of games. One reason for this is that some teachers believe that this way of doing things reduces competition. They believe that a season of games with the same teams will simply result in one team being successful while most others are unsuccessful. But, paradoxically, this will always be true when the ‘season' is composed of only one game. When teams are only valid for one lesson and only play one game together, it may be experienced as a one-game season. The winner takes all with no chance for the losing team to improve.

In most situations, someone, some team, has to lose a game. In the situation of the one-game season, this team never gets a chance to focus that feeling of disappointment into improvement. And even if there is another game, there is not much point focusing on improvement if there is no opportunity or structure provided through which to improve. If the next physical education lesson is simply another game, then the competitive aspect is exacerbated as the losing team will most likely lose again, and so on. The one-game season only works to reduce competition because the team is less meaningful. The team lasts for only one game. So while the teacher has achieved a reduction in competition, this is done by reducing the meaning of the event for the students. They have no need to get competitive over something that means very little.

Additionally, in this circumstance, emphasis usually shifts away from the team to talented individuals. These are the players who carry the undeveloped team because they can generally perform without a team, especially when no team involved in the competition is well developed. In this form of team, there is an I. The game becomes a battle of the good players. Here a team of champions defeats all other teams because no other team can be a champion team. Yet these good players are not the ones who really need this high level of access to the majority of opportunities in physical education. And everyone is missing out on the learning that comes from forging a good team focused on improving across a season of games, a season that provides significant time and structure for practice.

The urge to invest in practice does not exist without the meaning provided by team, game and season. All good sporting teams spend more time practicing than playing competition games. But they practise because they are a team, the team is involved with a game, and the game is played across a season in competition with other teams. If a team loses, they look to how they can improve their performance in the next game by practicing in the interim. This is how we usually understand sport to be structured. Yet in physical education we tend to characterise sport by simply listing the names of adult sports rather than the structures that are part of all sports. These structures are well documented in the sport education model.

In creative PE we develop our own teams and games with a significant level of student input. These teams and games are the building blocks of sport as it is played through a season of games. It is through these structures that sport is meaningful for physical education, not just as training for adult sports. Physical education should not simply be about preparing students for adult organised sports. Physical education should help young people to understand how best to work with these structures of sport, of which a season is a major one. In the lives of many young people, informal seasons structure the playing of a game over numerous lunchtimes.

Various Forms of Season

There are many forms of season. The most common is the round robin, or versions of it, in which all teams play each other at least once. This form of season is usually perceived as fair, as long as each team plays each other team an equal number of times. Another type of season or fixture is that used in competition tennis. This is usually a knockout (or single elimination) competition that is not as fair in participatory terms as a round robin. Single elimination is structured to determine which is the best team or individual. Fairness is introduced by seeding the players and then spreading these through the draw. But in the adult world, these knockout competitions are usually part of a larger series; if you get knocked out of one, then you prepare for the next one. Still another form of season is that used in many boxing competitions, often called a challenge cup. One person or team holds the cup at any one time and others challenge this person or team; whoever wins the challenge gets to hold the cup until the next challenger comes along.

Learn more about Creative Physical Education.

More Excerpts From Creative Physical Education