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Sport Is Also Education
-- Building Character through Exercise and Sport

Takeshi Yoshinaga
Associate Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Educational Value of Exercise and Sport

We have opportunities to exercise, play games and sports at various times and situations in our lives. We can enjoy all sorts of exercise and sport throughout our lifetime, such as a parent and child playing catch, swimming lessons and exercise classes, learning basketball and tee ball in physical education class, playing tag and dodgeball during breaks, athletics in youth sport clubs, group activities at university such as tennis and futsal, and jogging and climbing on days off. The reasons why we exercise and engage in sports vary, too: for the pure fun of it, to maintain and improve health, or to deal with stress and develop social relations. Since exercise and sport have various kinds of educational value and promote personal growth, physical education is compulsory at every level of schooling.

Children should experience diverse motor activities and sports

On the other hand, it is true that some people have negative feelings towards exercise and sport. One reason is the lack of motivation, because one cannot feel that “exercise and sport is fun, so I want to do it." To resolve this issue, it is necessary to build feelings of competence toward exercise, confidence that one can be successful at it. The approach to exercise and sport in childhood holds an important key. Since it is thought that development of the nervous system reaches its peak at around ten years old, giving a child experience in diverse motor activities and sports can help build a lifelong connection to exercise.

Developing Communication Skills

Joy of collective achievement in athletics
(Recreational outdoor activities)

It has been suggested for a long time that relationships among adolescents are weakening and their communication skills are deteriorating. A decline in the number of children and the rise of the Internet serve as the backdrop to this phenomenon. Today, as these are still considered societal problems, it's clear that no solution has yet been found. "Fundamental Competencies for Working Persons," a white paper by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), specifically emphasizes the importance of the "ability to work with diverse people toward a goal" (METI website). However, even for university students on the verge of graduation into society, only a few have sufficiently developed such competence. I was surprised in the past by the emergence of the phrase, "lunch mate syndrome." Indeed, I have seen with my own eyes students who worry that they cannot interact easily with others. Therefore, for undergraduate classes, I have introduced a learning environment where students work together. This involves having students discuss in groups various issues surrounding sports, and having them work together to develop teaching materials for physical education classes at junior high schools. Especially effective are activities where students go out of the classroom and interact with each other while actually exercising their bodies on the athletic field or in a gymnasium. Through competing in jump rope contests in groups or playing doubles (not singles) in badminton, students have many positive interactions, such as naturally calling to each other as buddies, or giving high-fives when a point was scored. These positive interactions continue after students return to learning activities in the classroom.

Also in the area of pedagogy of physical education, my specialty, it has been shown that physical activity classes influence human relationships and the atmosphere of the classroom (Hino, et al, 2000). In addition, looking at trends in other countries, in national standards created by US NASPE (National Association for Sport and Physical Education), exercise and sport are seen as opportunities for social interaction, and listed as specific targets to achieve the goal of a "Physically Educated Person" (NASPE, 2004). In other words, exercise and sport provide rich experiences of interaction with others, and enable students to develop the communication skills necessary to live in society, interacting with a variety of people.

Providing Experiences of Appropriate Activities

A teacher’s commitment helps to raise children who enjoy exercise and sport
(Instruction during an elementary school physical education class)

While there are many benefits to exercise and sport, there are also some potential negative aspects. About three years ago, there was a disturbing case of a student at a public high school in Osaka who was driven to suicide because of violence from his coach. Just about a month ago, WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) announced that there was systematic doping by Russian athletes, which shocked the sporting world. Such negative aspects are not necessarily limited to high-level competition. For example, I saw with my own eyes, at a game of mini basketball for elementary school children, a coach who was too keen on winning verbally abuse a child who made a mistake and the student was crying while chasing the ball around the court. Or, while playing soccer in physical education classes, there are many cases where the ball is not passed to a student who is not good at sports and the game finishes without the student touching the ball even once.

In order to resolve these issues, it is imperative to choose exercise and sports that match children’s developmental stages and to create an environment conducive to sports. Of course, the central people to do this are schoolteachers and coaches of clubs and sports teams, so how to train these coaches becomes an important challenge. Coaches who depend only on their own experiences tend to only apply the teaching methods of the past, and lack a desire to learn the latest findings of sport science or update their teaching methods. This is part of the reason behind the recurring problem of corporal punishment, and the incidents described above.

If more young people can taste the thrill of exercise and sport, more will continue to do it in later life. In turn, that will lead to healthier and more fulfilling lives, physically and mentally. In that sense, expectations are high for schoolteachers and coaches to create an environment where students can have appropriate experiences of exercise and sport.


Katsuhiro Hino, et al. (2000) “Correlation between Evaluation of Physical Exercise Class of Children at Elementary Schools and Class Group Consciousness”, Taiikugaku kenkyu (Japan Journal of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences) Vol. 45 (5): 599-610.
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry homepage (http://www.meti.go.jp/policy/kisoryoku/)
NASPE (2004) Moving into the Future: National Standards for Physical Education. AAHPERD Publications.

Takeshi Yoshinaga
Associate Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Born in Kumamoto City in 1972. Doctoral program coursework completed at Tsukuba University Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences, Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences. After working as a technical officer at the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences, he worked as Research Associate at Waseda University School of Sport Sciences, and full-time lecturer at Tokyo Women’s College of Physical Education, assuming his current post in 2011. His published works include Using Flag Football to Teach Tactics in Elementary School (Meijitosho Shuppan), and a joint publication Introduction to Pedagogy of Physical Education (New Edition) (TAISHUKAN Publishing).