Physical Education and Sport in Schools: A Review of Benefits and Outcomes

By Bailey, Richard | Journal of School Health, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Physical Education and Sport in Schools: A Review of Benefits and Outcomes


Bailey, Richard, Journal of School Health


Advocates of physical education and sport (PES) have listed numerous benefits associated with participation in these activities. For example, Talbot claims that physical education helps children to develop respect for the body--their own and others', contributes toward the integrated development of mind and body, develops an understanding of the role of aerobic and anaerobic physical activity in health, positively enhances self-confidence and self-esteem, and enhances social and cognitive development and academic achievement. (1) Writing specifically about sport, a Council of Europe report suggests that it provides opportunities to meet and communicate with other people, to take different social roles, to learn particular social skills (such as tolerance and respect for others), and to adjust to team/collective objectives (such as cooperation and cohesion), and that it provides experience of emotions that are not available in the rest of life. This report goes on to stress the important contribution of sport to processes of personality development and psychological well-being, stating that there is, "strong evidence ... on the positive effects of physical activities on self-concept, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, tension and stress, self-confidence, energy, mood, efficiency and well-being." (2)

Such claims have often been criticized for lacking empirical foundations and for confusing policy rhetoric with scientific evidence. (3) This paper seeks to explore some of the scientific evidence that has been gathered on the contributions and benefits of PES for both children and for educational systems. In doing so, it will be using a framework and some of the data derived from a recent international research project, (4) which drew evidence from over 50 countries, including a meta-analysis of statements of aims and standards, and national curricula. (5) Findings suggest that the outcomes of PES can be understood in terms of children's development in 5 domains:

* Physical

* Lifestyle

* Affective

* Social

* Cognitive

As its title suggests, this article is concerned with "physical education and sport." Since the relationship between the concepts "physical education" and "sport" continues to be a cause of debate, (6) it is worthwhile clarifying the use of the terms in this review. In many, predominantly Anglophone, countries, the term "physical education" is used to refer to that area of the school curriculum concerned with developing students' physical competence and confidence, and their ability to use these to perform in a range of activities. (7) "Sport" is a collective noun and usually refers to a range of activities, processes, social relationships, and presumed physical, psychological, and sociological outcomes. (8) In this presentation, there appears to be a relatively clear conceptual distinction between these 2 terms. However, cross-cultural studies have revealed significant differences in the use of terminology in this area, and many educational systems use the terms synonymously, or simply use "sport" as a generic descriptor. (9) For this reason, and in line with international agencies like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), (10) the inclusive term "physical education and sport" will be used to refer to those structured, supervised physical activities that take place at school and during the school day.

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT

PES in school is the main societal institution for the development of physical skills and the provision of physical activity in children and young people. (11) For many children, school is the main environment for being physically active, through either PES programs or after-school activities. (12) There is evidence that for a growing number of children, school provides the main opportunity for regular, structured physical activity as a combination of economic pressures (13) and parental concerns for safety (14) means that fewer children are able to play games in nonschool settings.

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