With a lesson called "games", it is easy for children to get into play mode when taking part in PE at primary school. And when sessions consist of beanbag balancing races or 30-a-side games of rounders where each child gets three swings in an hour, the opportunity for the non-doers to make daisy-chains or impersonate guppy fish is often too great to resist.
Yet PE is not leisure time. It can and should be a valuable part of all children's learning. The notion that not everyone enjoys PE or is naturally sporty no longer holds water. Just as in maths and geography, it does matter if you don't take part and give your best.
In order to give their best, children's minds must be engaged. Everyone, however unco-ordinated or reserved, can think. Many who are less gifted at sports may be able to outwit, if not outplay, a more talented opponent.
Effective performance requires independent decision-making, but this does not come naturally to many children, especially when parents or teachers do their thinking for them. Should I use pen or pencil? Can I get something out of my tray? Can I watch TV? Can I go to the toilet?
Is it any wonder that independent decision-making is difficult to instil, especially if a subject is regarded as nothing more than a bit of fun? But if developed early enough, this ability can have an enormous impact on a child's physical education. Decision-making in PE can be divided into these broad categories: What do I do?
How do I it?
When do I do it?
Why do I do it?
At its most basic, decision-making can be explained by showing that in PE and sport we do things for a reason. What is the purpose of our actions? What are we trying to achieve?
In a modification of football, groups of three attackers have to outwit a single goalkeeper and score a goal. Player A starts with the ball and is allowed only one initial touch in deciding to shoot or to pass to one of the other two. Players B and C decide where on the small pitch to position themselves to support player A. The goalkeeper has a choice - stay on the goal line and attempt to save the shot or come out and confront player A.
To do their best, the players need to know basic passing and controlling techniques. During the game, questions might include: how do I pass accurately to a team-mate? Do I use the side of my foot or the front when passing? Which part of the ball do I kick? What happens if I kick the bottom part? When controlling the pass, do I let the ball hit the side of my foot or attempt to trap it while it is still moving? Should I try and use both feet, one to control and one to shoot, or simply rely on my stronger foot?
Timing is also important. Does the goalkeeper rush off his line or wait to see what player A will do before making his decision? What will be the attacker's response to a goalkeeper who waits on the line or rushes towards the ball straight away? Supporting players will also need to think about when to shoot and when to pass.
Such a game is ideal for beginners, enables the teacher to introduce basic decision-making and can be easily adapted for rugby, basketball and hockey.
The game can be extended by introducing a second defender or by extending the time limit. With two against three, co-operative decisions have to be made, such as : As defenders, do we follow the ball or mark our opponents?
Which attacker do we leave unmarked?
What will happen if we try to defend the whole pitch rather than just the danger areas?
As attackers, how can we move defenders away from the goal?
How do I shield the ball from the defenders to stop them tackling me?
Where and when do I need to move to support my fellow attackers?
These are the sorts of decisions made in team games. If introduced at a basic level early on, by the end of junior school children should be more proficient as independent and co-operative decision-makers. Then, whatever their ability, they will be more able to make the most of PE.