Physical Education Leadership Lessons?

Is physical education and leadership synonymous? Hear thoughts from two physical education teachers.

Here in Halogen, I have the privilege of meeting educators who have been entrusted with the responsibility of Student Leadership Development. Among them, I have noticed that many are Physical Education (PE) teachers.

As I pondered upon this trend and read up about it, I realised that this is a natural fit as sports is a great means to build leaders. Through sports, students can develop their value system, character and leadership competencies.

As highlighted in our Executive Director’s foreword, the focus of the London Olympics this year is to “Inspire a Generation”. The “Inspire Programme” has created millions of opportunities for many to get involved in the Games spanning the areas of culture, sport, education, sustainability, volunteering and business. With 10 million people in the United Kingdom involved in these projects, 9 out of 10 project leaders have been inspired to run similar projects in the future. This is the beauty of inspiring a generation—it multiplies.

I believe this is also the hope of many educators—to inspire a generation of young leaders to lead well and see the effect multiply. We had a chat with two budding Physical Education teachers on their thoughts of sports and leadership. They are Grace Tan, PE/English Language teacher in Pei Hwa Secondary School and teacher in-charge of the Outdoor Activities Club, and Benjamin Fong, PE and Computer Applications teacher at another secondary school.

Character Building in Sports

Character building is a common thread between building leaders and sport. A leader will not be able to lead nor command respect from others if his character is questionable. One’s character determines the values being communicated to fellow teammates and the quality of one’s leadership. The role of sports is then very essential as it has the potential to hone one’s character.

Increasing Self-Awareness

Through sports, one’s strengths and weaknesses become more apparent. When taking part in competitions or even during regular training sessions, the interactions with teammates and opponents help to raise one’s self-awareness. Often, such moments provide opportunities for one to realise that there is so much that can be learnt from others.

Sports can teach one to be more accepting of our flaws and confront them with a positive mindset (one that seeks to improve on weaknesses). At the same time, sports can also bring out hidden talent, which can be further tapped upon. Similarly, in building up leaders, having self-awareness is pertinent. A leader who is confident with a positive outlook about himself, and able to accept himself for who he is, will be able to lead out of his innate being and be an effective leader.

“Through sports, one’s strengths and weaknesses become more apparent. When taking part in competitions or even during regular training sessions, the interactions with teammates and opponents help to raise one’s self-awareness.”
Rising Above Stress and Failure

Leaders must be able to manage stress that comes from expectations. Pressure to produce results comes from coaches, teachers and bosses. Whether a leader or team-player, one needs to see beyond and work around challenges rather than let them overwhelm us. Amid mistakes and stress, we must stay focused on the goal.

However, failure is normal, be it losing literally in a competition or just the feeling of being an average joe in the team. As teachers, it is important to provide a “safe” place for students to learn to pick themselves up when they fall.

Students can learn to choose to dwell in self-pity and remain in the rut, or rise above the failure or feeling of being a failure. The latter leads to a gain in confidence as they take small steps to better themselves. Through these experiences, they understand that great leaders are not the ones who make the least mistakes, but the ones who learn from their mistakes.

Building Confidence

When one engages in an activity that he/she does well in, inevitably, they will feel good about themselves. It then spurs them on to want to continuously improve.

It is similar to leadership. We give them minor roles and responsibilities, mentoring and guiding them to be able to make the right decisions on their own. Responsibilities are increased till they reach a level of competency where you can trust them to carry out tasks without your guidance. Students then feel able and empowered.

Creating Teachable Moments

As a PE teacher, we can be intentional about inculcating values in our lessons. Regardless of the game or activity being taught, there will be teachable moments to highlight key values which are important in shaping the character of students. We do not have to only mention positive attitudes or examples observed; the negative examples are worth mentioning so as to teach right from wrong.

More than just Physical Education

PE is a valuable subject and contributes much to developing one’s character. It is very dynamic and definitely not “dead”. In PE, we work with pupils who may have psychomotor problems and cannot carry out simple tasks such as basic throwing and catching. We also have to work with students who regard themselves to be better than the rest and those who have low confidence. Some students refuse to take part because they either do not want to feel sweaty and dirty or simply lack confidence. We can take the opportunity to motivate, nurture, correct and discipline.

Given the different nature of our pupils, no one lesson is the same and there will always be times for us as PE teachers to emphasise to our pupils the importance of developing one’s “heart ware” in addition to the hard skills learnt to play a particular sport. We can inculcate values such as teamwork, humility, respect, honour and integrity.