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Beyond games and sports: a socio-ecological approach to physical education

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Acknowledging the performative sporting discourses which continue to dominate physical education, and the emerging focus on disease prevention within this context, this paper presents a socio-ecological framework for physical education that aims to shift the focus towards more multidimensional understandings of what it means to be ‘physically educated’. In doing so, we hope to prompt physical educators in schools and undergraduate programmes to more confidently employ intra-personal, inter-personal and environmental lenses through which to view and understand physical education, and therefore extend the gaze beyond activity-driven practice and ‘downstream’ exercise for health. The proposed framework draws upon established socio-ecological models and encompasses functional, recreational, health-related and performance-related physical activities. The multi-layered complexity associated with the field of physical education is reflected within the proposed socio-ecological framework. Through embracing complexity, particularly the interactions between layers of influence, the framework encourages exploration of the ‘physical’ beyond its subordinate components like fitness, body mass index, tactical awareness or motor skills. The framework is inclusive of games and sports but questions how these activities can be connected in the everyday lives of the learners. Importantly, the framework provided is not an approach to teaching and learning and, on its own, will do little to address the ongoing critique about the privileging of performative and health discourses within physical education. As they have in other fields, socio-ecological frames can provide a useful reference for the teaching and learning of physical education. To produce physically educated citizens in the broadest sense, teachers need to be supported, across multiple levels, to reposition their field to that of a connected specialism contributing to the whole curriculum and the communities within which they are located. It is our contention that socio-ecological frames can serve as useful tools to facilitate such a repositioning.
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Keywords: Meaning; Physical education; Social ecology; Teachers

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Monash University, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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