5 SPARK Studies That Highlight the Importance of Physical Education


A child sits against the wall as he is bullied at school

The natural reaction to bullying is to avoid the environment in which it takes place. Unfortunately, when bullying occurs during physical education (PE) classes, children can begin to shy away from the activities that are crucial to their physical and mental health.

Scientific studies have shown that bullying in PE lessons may not only discourage students from class participation, but can go on to affect their greater well-being. Here, we’ll look at the research in more detail, and explain why it’s so important for you to prevent in-class bullying as a physical educator.

What Are the Effects of Bullying in PE?

Research conducted by Brigham Young University (BYU) shows that bullying during sports and PE classes can make children withdraw from physical activity entirely. This means that students start avoiding exercise at school as well as in their personal lives. While previous research has suggested that bullying might only reduce physical activity in overweight individuals, it now seems the same problem can happen to children of a healthy weight.

And the effects of bullying in PE classes spill into other parts of the schooling experience, too. One study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology reported that victims of bullying suffer from social and emotional issues, not to mention a poorer academic performance for up to a year following the incident.

With such long-lasting and all-embracing results, bullying in PE needs to stop. But how can you prevent bullying in your classes? The key is to nip it in the bud.

How Does Bullying in PE Lessons Begin?

According to Chad Jensen, one of the scientists behind the BYU study, the goal of their research was to encourage educators to implement more bullying-prevention solutions in their PE classes. But to ensure a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, you need to be able to spot the first signs.

Bullying in PE lessons can take the form of:

  • name-calling during a sport or activity
  • laughing at a student as they participate
  • not choosing a student for a team, or taking issue with a student being placed on the same team

While negative peer interactions in PE can become an issue for any student, those at a more impressionable age are more likely to retreat from physical activity if they suffer this kind of abuse. Bullying can have a long-term impact on a child’s self-esteem, their sense of ability, and their belief that they can contribute to a team. This is why you should keep an even closer eye on younger PE students, so you can stop this destructive process before it takes over their entire school life and experience of sports.

Preventing Bullying in PE Lessons

PE forms an invaluable part of the school curriculum; it’s essential that students can show up and get a better understanding of how to live their healthiest lives. This subject not only gives children an opportunity for physical activity, but also teaches healthful habits that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

You can help your students feel safe in your PE classes by creating a supportive and welcoming environment. While you should always stop the slightest signs of bullying in their tracks, developing a strong foundation for friendship and positivity can stamp out any animosity in the first place.

Emphasize the importance of teamwork in all of your PE activities, and always be sure to assign the teams yourself. If you want to inject some competition into your lessons, have the students compete against themselves and their own personal bests instead of making rivalry a necessity. Avoid games like dodgeball, which gives children a chance to bully others in the name of sports, and has been shown to still affect people decades later. In short, cultivate a collaborative atmosphere where students work together and build one another up.

PE is vital to children’s development and must be something that every student feels comfortable taking part in. For more ideas on how to create positive and effective PE lessons, check out SPARK’s free lesson plans and activity cards today.

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