Girls should be given the chance to play soccer at school – but sport needs a major overhaul for all students

Following England’s Euro 2022 victory, many women, including the Lionesses themselves, have commented on the lack of football in their school days. In fact, England Football, part of the Football Association, recently reported that only 44% of secondary schools in England offer boys and girls equivalent football lessons.

But many people don’t have fond memories of physical education (PE) classes in general.

Thinking back to your school experience, do you remember running for cross-country skiing in the snow or in the pouring rain? Play dodgeball and get slapped in the face? The repetitive tone of the beep test? Or being apart from your friends who could do activities like soccer that you really wanted to do but couldn’t because of your gender?

In my role as a Sport Specialist in teacher education, speaking across England, I am often approached by an influx of people who have had negative sporting experiences.

Issues such as everyday sexism and persisting patriarchal values ​​play out in sport, sports and school in general. And as research suggests and those I’ve spoken to can attest, such issues can have a detrimental lifelong impact on a person’s relationship with exercise and sports. Therefore, PE must change for everyone.

The problems in PE

A tight curriculum is often shaped by the teachers’ own sporting love affairs. This is reflected in the continued recycling of traditional sports such as football, rugby, cricket and track and field for boys and dance, netball, baseball and track and field for girls.

celebrate footballers.
The Lionesses’ success at UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 games has inspired the nation and many women have questioned why football is not an integral part of girls’ physical education classes.
Mark Pain/Alamy

This gendered and arguably sexist approach denies opportunities to children, but continues in many schools in England today. This often goes hand in hand with ableistic and elitist issues as well, e.g. B. By subjecting children to grueling fitness tests and judging them on how well they can perform certain techniques to separate them by physical ability.

Focusing each lesson on the technique of the sport is arguably a very outdated teaching approach. Having each lesson dictated by an instructor that requires a warm-up, skill practice, and game isn’t really inspiring or creative. Research suggests that inspiring young people through a negotiated curriculum would be far more beneficial as it would give young people choices about what to participate in and how.

As a detail in my recent co-authored book shows, there are many other ways to make sport more modern and fairer. From my experience working in countless schools, young people enjoy sport more when they are exposed to these types of practices.

But schools often don’t realize that they are engaging in highly unfair practices and offering little choice to students because many teachers are simply mimicking their own experiences with sports. It is also likely that these teachers were not challenged to think differently during their teacher training.

So instead of seeing that their role is to ensure that all young people can find ways to enjoy exercise that they can carry throughout their lives, they simply continue the cycle of outdated and uninspiring physical education . When a teacher comes along looking to shake things up, they can sometimes delve into outdated practices championed by department heads with a different agenda. The desire to create elite sports stars is perhaps the most pervasive – not very inclusive for college students.

Another problem affecting sports is that the purposes of the different exercise spaces have become blurred. For example, there are clear differences between physical education (school learning about all physical things), school physical education (organized school events, possibly for selected individuals), extracurricular clubs (for all students to engage in after-school activities), and youth sports ( outside of school). Each of these movement spaces serves a different purpose and learning in each of them should be different.

As an example, in PE you could learn about calorie burning myths and why they are far too simplistic based on our different lifestyle factors. You may also find that you enjoy individual pursuits like swimming, parkour, or rock climbing rather than invasion games like soccer or netball. But in after-school clubs, young people may learn that they prefer to exercise in the morning rather than after school, or that it’s more fun to exercise with friends who aren’t in their physical education class.

time to change something

Spaces where people move their bodies, such as gymnasiums, gyms and swimming pools, are natural playgrounds that can inspire all kinds of skills such as teamwork and camaraderie, respect and safety, and break down barriers of social inequality such as gender stereotypes.

Girl and boy play soccer.
There should be more opportunities for boys and girls to play together and give both groups access to more variety in sports.

Where appropriate, schools should offer mixed-gender physical education classes that thrive on democratic values ​​such as collaboration and equality rather than sexism and hierarchies. They should try to offer young people a range of culturally relevant options that go beyond traditional sports, especially those that could be maintained throughout life: skateboarding, jumping, self-defense or mountain biking.

Schools, and physical education teachers in particular, have the opportunity to make serious curriculum changes to provide engaging, comfortable and equitable spaces for all young people to move their bodies in activities that encourage physical activity throughout their lives.

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