A sporting democracy

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Crispin Andrews explains how seeing the effects of removing the rules of sport can teach children valuable lessons about citizenship

While taking part in PE and sport, children can learn about citizenship issues, such as rules and fairness.

Because many of the relationships and thought processes developed during PE and sport have relevance beyond the subject itself, even those who have no desire to become the next David Beckham or Venus Williams can benefit in many ways.

Children's natural enthusiasm for being active can motivate further learning, while practical experience of an effect or a situation can help retain knowledge and understanding. From an organisational angle, using physical activity to teach subjects such as citizenship can also ease pressure on school timetables.

Those who question the need for rules might find a receptive audience for their views among primary children. Surely rules just get in the way and stop you from doing what you want!

Rather than relying on abstract moral discussion, the need for rules can soon be established through taking part in simple games. While involved in a striking and fielding unit of work, one or more of the following rules might be removed:

* Three pairs per game. The pair with the most points wins.

* Each pair has six goes. The ball is struck off a tee, from a still position, to allow basic skills to be developed.

* A player runs from the starting position to the cone five metres ahead to score one run, and then back for a second, while fielders return the ball to their wicket-keeper.

If the second rule is removed and opponents are permitted to bowl or throw the ball at the batter any way they wished, this would make it more difficult for beginners to learn their skills and would defeat the object of the game. And it also wouldn't be long before some bright spark realised that throwing the ball as far away from the batter as possible would prevent the batter scoring any points at all. Others would copy, arguments relating to cheating and fairness would ensue, the game would fall to pieces and children would achieve nothing in terms of improved proficiency.

Inventing ways to regulate the bowler's conduct to ensure the batter had a fair chance of reaching the ball would begin to introduce the relationship between rules, fairness and purpose.

Similarly, if the third rule was removed, how would children score? Many ideas might be forthcoming, but would it be fair if each team decided a method for itself? What would happen if the first team decided that every hit counts as one run and then in their eagerness to win, the second pair gave themselves 10 runs each time they performed the same feat? Similarly, what would happen if teams could decide how many goes they had each or how many players were to play for them?

What if one additional rule, designed for safety - creating an inner zone around the batter in which fielders are not allowed to stand until after the ball has been hit - was removed? Children's natural propensity to "comfort crowd", or to be near the action, might lead them into potentially harmful situations.

In the classroom, children could describe what happened when a rule was removed. Did the game achieve its purpose? Did they learn as much from playing it without the rule? What would happen if certain key rules were removed from the classroom and the school? If, for instance, you could shout out in class whenever you felt like it, or play running games in the corridors at break? The consideration of what they would lose in terms of creating obstacles to learning or safety, rather than being asked to sign up on moral grounds, would help children understand the actual purpose behind such rules.

Extending concepts like this into the community and society in general would allow children to get to grips with the role of parliament and local authorities.

Last, looking at how problems caused by the removal of rules in their game were overcome will help children begin to understand the process by which rules are made. After the initial chaos, negotiation would have enabled new ideas to be put forward and analysis would have helped children realise whether a particular suggestion was likely to make the game safe, purposeful and fair to everyone. Persuasion and, in the end, voting might have also been used to solve disagreements and make decisions about which idea to use. Through this process, children are not only taking ownership of their conduct and the rules governing it, but they are also getting a personal introduction to the democratic system in which they live.

Crispin Andrews is a primary school teacher

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