Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Evolution of the Dragon by Jan English

Jan English is the Strategic Lead for the South East Wales Physical Education and School Sport Consortium and the title author of Dragon Multi-Skills and Sport.
Here, she talks through the development of the new concept in giving children the sporting skills to get them hooked on sport for life.

 Three years ago, Sport Wales decided to review its Dragon Sport programme to establish if it was still fit for purpose.  Dragon Sport was an extra-curricular initiative aimed at 7-11 year olds that comprised of a training course and a set of sport specific games and activities for each of the eight Dragon Sports (Athletics, Cricket, Football, Golf, Hockey, Netball, Rugby, Tennis). 
At this time Sport Wales engaged in a wide consultation including Dragon Sport Officers, local authority Sports Development Officers, National Governing Body of Sport Officers, Disability Sport Wales, teachers, advisory staff, Physical Education and School Sport (PESS) Officers, volunteers, coaches, leaders and most importantly children, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Dragon Sport scheme.  The consultation highlighted many strengths but also some key weaknesses particularly from the children’s perspective.  They wanted more say in what they did and how they did it, they wanted to be with their friends and saw extra-curricular activities as their social time.
At the same time the PESS project had just launched ‘Play to Learn’, a curricular, extra-curricular, community and family approach aimed at enhancing the physical development of 3-7 year olds.  The approach complemented the Foundation Phase ethos adopting a child centred, holistic approach to learning.  ‘Play to Learn’ engages children in physical activity through a range of stimuli including storybooks and activities.  ‘Play to Learn’ sets out a range of FUNdamental technical skills that children should experience over time and when ready.  ‘Play to Learn’ mirrors the Foundation Phase encouraging deliverers to provide opportunities that are appropriate to each child’s stage of development not their age.
Concurrently Sport Wales was considering the future of the PESS project and again engaged in wide consultation.  As part of that consultation secondary school PE teachers reported a lack of skill for incoming pupils in year 7.  They recognised improvements in body management skills that they associated with the concentration of the PESS project on gymnastics and dance, but felt that games skills were particularly poor.  National Governing Bodies of Sport also identified this lack of skill in the Dragon Sport review.
The FUNdamental movement skills approach was gaining popularity throughout the world, building particularly on the experiences in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  The Youth Sport Trust, Sports Coach UK and many National Governing Bodies of Sport were very keen to adopt FUNdamentals into their coaching education programmes.
As a consequence of being involved in the development of Top Sport and Dragon Sport and one of the main consultants involved in the development of ‘Play to Learn’ I was asked to look at the Multi-Skills agenda and propose a way forward.  One of the first things I did was to recommend that revisions to the Dragon Sport scheme and Multi-skills should not be considered in isolation and that they should be united under one umbrella.  I worked with a group of National Governing Body staff to establish their thoughts on this merger and their keenness to engage in a common multi-skills agenda.  This meeting was the most exciting I have ever been involved in in my 18 years involvement with Sport Wales, because I realised that there was a will to create a cultural shift to develop a consistent high quality child-centred approach to physical education and school sport.  Spurred on by this I set about developing a new vision for Dragon.
I researched existing academic perspectives on the FUNdamentals approach and reviewed over 30 FUNdamental schemes/resources and training courses from around the world.  This work helped me to identify the FUNdamental skills beyond those included in ‘Play to Learn’ and the types of activities that were appropriate and successful in developing these skills.  As I developed the resources I was conscious that if new Dragon was to be successful then it had to be an approach not just another course and set of resources. The philosophy relating to delivery was more important to me than the skills and activities. 
In addition to mapping against the national curriculum and cross referencing skills and activities to make sure I had taken the best ideas from around the world, I have to weave in an approach that would maximise the impact that these resources could have in curricular, extra-curricular, community and family settings.  All of this had to be encapsulated in a joint training course for a range of stakeholders particularly teachers and community coaches. 
The approach advocates:
-          ‘conversation coaching’ with the deliverer working with the child
-          listening to the child
-          valuing their contributions
-          including all children regardless of their ability
-          giving children increased responsibility and ownership for the own learning
-          recognising that friendship groups and positive relationships with teachers, coaches, leaders and other children are important factors to a child’s motivation
-          recognising wider skills such as thinking communication, personal, social and emotional, sporting attitudes, teamwork, leadership, alternative roles are as important to the child as the physical skills.
So Dragon Multi-Skills and Sport grew into:
-          a set of technical skills that progressed from Play to Learn and formed the ‘as they apply their skills’ level of the technical skills hierarchy,
-          a set of multi-skills inclusive activities that provide opportunities for children to use and develop their skills in a fun, small sided generic contexts
-          a set of sport specific inclusive activities and games that represent opportunities to develop their skills in a sport specific context
-          a training course that puts the child at the centre of the activity and transfers responsibility and ownership to the child
-          a common approach that is appropriate for all stakeholders and involves new ways of partnership working
As this approach begins to roll out across Wales, I hope that the ambition and vision to create a cultural shift continues and that children will feel confident to make choices and be more successful regardless of their ability, leading to increased participation, increased frequency of participation, improved performance and life-long participation that will impact positively on children in Wales’ health and well-being.