Champions for life
The 3rd national conference on sport pedagogy was hosted by the University of the Philippines Diliman last week, with some 200 participants from Batanes to Zamboanga, showing how we’re becoming more scientific in the teaching of sports.
It’s not just PE or physical education, which refers to sports programs in elementary and high school, but “movement science” and “human kinetics,” with presentations on all kinds of studies to enhance sports performance and endurance. The plenary speakers included professors from other countries, including Filipinos like Dr. Catherine Capio now based at the University of Hong Kong and Dr. Jun San Juan at Western Washington University.
The range of sports being handled in schools has expanded, now including futsal (indoor football), traditional martial arts, mountain biking, even Pinoy ballroom dancing.
I had to deliver the opening remarks and thought I’d remind the audience that there is still much to do to advance sports education in the country. On the surface, we seem to have a strong school sports program, requiring PE at all levels. But when you look at the state of public gyms and sports facilities in schools, you will see why we do so poorly in international athletic competitions.
Fear of the body
Ultimately, the lack of support for sports goes back to a national mindset marked by somatophobia, a fear of the body.
The roots go back to our Christian traditions introduced by Spain. Early Christians disliked the “pagan” glorification of the body and adopted Stoic philosophies where the body was seen, at best, as a necessary evil and, even worse, a source of temptation and eternal damnation.
We still see that today in the constant warnings against being too attached to the body. The other week we heard a Filipino Catholic bishop warning that yoga, by emptying the mind, would invite demonic possession. The body, seen as evil, was something not just to be disciplined but to be punished. It is not surprising that we have some harsh penitential practices where the body is harmed as a way to achieve salvation.
Through the centuries, the body and the mind drifted apart in Western philosophy, with the French philosopher Rene Descartes giving special privilege to the mind by declaring, “I think, therefore I am.”
The Americans continued this privileging of the mind with an educational system that gave a premium to mental work. UP and other state schools were put up to train civil servants. Agriculture, technical and vocational professions were relegated to a menial status.
Class and gender came in as well in devaluing physical labor, and the body itself. Today, we see this kind of thinking in the fixation over skin whiteners, which are attempts to not so much imitate Caucasians as make ourselves seem upper-class, hindi nabibilad sa araw (not exposed to the sun).
As for gender, I still hear parents saying they don’t want their daughters becoming too athletic: baka umitim, baka lumaki ang braso, baka lumaki ang binti (she might turn dark, her arms and legs might become too developed).
Given all this, it is not surprising that PE is seen as just another requirement, mere lip service to the need to keep healthy.
Meanwhile, though, young people are discovering the need to give some attention to the body, and it is unfortunate that because PE is so neglected, it means health education is also minimal. Young people end up easy prey to all kinds of nonsensical, if not fraudulent, products, from the skin whiteners to steroids and testosterone for body-building.
I think, I move, therefore…
Bringing about change
Educators can change the situation through several measures.
First, we must follow the lead of many countries in the world that see sports and physical fitness as a vital part of general education and not just one of those subjects that isn’t even counted in the general average.
Second, sports pedagogy must question the very foundations of educational methods, which still tend to be based on mental faculties alone. Sports pedagogy can and will bring out the importance of creating habits, muscle memories and kinesthetic learning. Schooling can become a feast of the senses—visual, auditory, tactile—capped by body movements. Descartes’ axiom should be expanded: “I think, I run, I dance, I exercise, therefore I am.”
Third, movement science should initiate research to show how sports and fitness activities can enhance mental learning and overall academic performance. A sound mind needs a sound body. What better way to teach nutrition and health education than to have students seeing how their bodies change through better diets and exercise, done as part of PE? What better way to teach anatomy and physiology than for students to see how their bodies achieve potentials that they could never even imagine?
What better way to teach students stress management, whether during examination periods or after major disasters, than to show how one feels good after exercise, and that it is especially important in times of stress? (At the conference there was one workshop on using sports, games and play for postdisaster rehabilitation programs.)
Fourth, we should demonstrate how sports are vital for values education. There’s nationalism involved in learning arnis and other traditional sports. But there’s room as well for internationalism, as students appreciate the religion and philosophy behind tae kwon do, judo, and, yes, yoga.
Still related to values education, school sports programs should be used to impart life skills. Sports programs teach our young the thrill of excelling in all we do, achieved through diligent, constant practice. Sports programs also inculcate in the young the imperatives of team spirit, ethics and sportsmanship.
More than winning at athletic performances, our school sports programs must work toward raising a next generation of Filipinos who will pressure town and city officials to build more sports facilities, rather than token basketball half-courts in the middle of a street, or cockfighting arenas.
Sports pedagogy must teach our young to dare to do the undoable… and think the unthinkable. At our last UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) cheerdance competition, we raised placards that read UP on one side and “Pantay pantay” (Equality) on the other—a call to think differently, to break the mold, as women Pep Squad members lifted men into the air. The crowds, and later, social media, went wild with this display that defied not just physical but also cultural barriers.
That is what sports pedagogy must be about: creating, from preschools to universities, champions for minds, for bodies and for lives.
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