Can sports educate? The EU seems to think so and has kicked off the European Year of Education through Sport to drive home values such as fair play and team spirit as well as inject some zing into dull school sports.
"One, two, three - run!" -- school sports often suffers from a lack of creativity.
Marcus Rummel is one of those teachers who comes fresh from a sports high school, brimming with motivation and enthusiasm. His class looks different from conventional school sports lessons, those that involve a mechanical work-out and a series of monotonous warm-ups for bored, listless kids.
"It isn’t that we all stand in a row and do exercises and everybody does the same thing, where even the small fat kid leapfrogs along with the others," Rummel told Deutsche Welle. "Rather, each one can bring along their own individual input. That’s the crux."
The result is that it’s not unusual to find Rummel’s students going rock climbing, dancing to hip-hop or canoeing.
But Cologne-based Rummel says this innovative form of sports lessons is still an exception in most schools in Germany. "The problem is that sports classes aimed at educating students, means a lot of work for the teachers and requires an intense rethinking of fixed ideas," says Rummel.
"The problem is compounded by the fact that most sport teachers have been around in schools for years, which means that they still employ the same methods that they’ve been using for the past 30 years," says Rummel.
Hand in hand: sports and education
This staid sports lesson routine at many schools throughout Europe might well be about to change. The EU’s Commissioner for Education and Culture, Viviane Redding launched the European Union’s European Year of Education (EYES) on January 1, 2004 in Dublin.
Under the motto "Move Your Body, Stretch Your Mind", the campaign is not just to meant to make school sports fun and sexy, but also aims to reinforce the links between the worlds of sports and education and emphasize the civic values taught by sports that contribute to a better education.
Redding explained that the EYES campaign coincided with several major sporting events, in particular Euro 2004 European soccer championship in Portugal in June and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Athens.
"I hope that 2004 will give a fresh boost to European sport in all its dimensions, not just in terms of high-level competition but also as an educational and social activity," Redding said at a press conference in Brussels end of last year. Redding also wants to promote committed voluntary work in the field of sports in each of the 15 EU countries, as well as the ten new ones scheduled to join the bloc in May.
Developing values through sports
Harald Zulauf, who is coordinating the EYES campaign in Germany said personality development and improving core values lay at the heart of the initiative.
"It’s about team-work, it's about fair play, it’s about anti-discrimination and social competence," he told Deutsche Welle.
Zulauf added that programs that promote these values in students as well as in adults within the framework of further training, were being singled out by the EU and provided financial aid.
The EU has already earmarked between €20,000 and €100,000 for around 185 projects all over Europe. The selected projects will publicize their work in the coming year with high-profile appearances in the media and public backed by top European sport figures such as French tennis star Amélie Mauresmo and Luxembourg skier Marc Giradelli.
In addition, the projects are committed to providing further training for sports teachers and trainers. Harald Zulauf hopes that the whole initiative will generate valuable teaching tips, that will trickle down to the actual grassroots in school sport lessons in a few years.
Changing mindsets a long process
But changing firmly ingrained mindsets and sports routines at schools is likely to prove difficult, as Marcus Rummel has learned. He may be willing to try innovative concepts in his class, but his students aren’t always on the ball.
Though Rummel uses all kinds of tricks to rid his class of the old pressure of performing well and making sports creative and fun, he often hears plaintive cries from his students asking if they couldn’t just play football instead. "Then you just have to try to find a balance – after all, you can’t change their thinking overnight," Rummel says.
Though it may take a while before school sports become fun and creative, the EU's recognition of the problem as evidenced by the EYES campaign might just be a first step.