Reflections on Dutch good practices in Kidmove

Paul Verschuur, Windesheim University of Applied Science

The Erasmus+ project “Kidmove” is implemented by five partner countries – Finland, Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Each of them has introduced three good practices that proved to be helpful in preventing youngsters from early drop out from sports clubs. The results have been processed into 15 blogs and video tutorials. The blogs have intentionally been kept rather short. Therefore, it is interesting to focus on the background of the three Dutch blogs: ‘Joy! The fun factor of moving’, ‘The importance of a culture of activity-diversity in sports clubs’ and ‘Hey coach, time to play isn’t it?’. This article explains the What?, Why? and How? behind the NL-blogs.

WHAT?

Let’s take a look at the basics of the Dutch contribution to the Erasmus+ project Kidmove, starting with the summary of the inaugural lecture of Dr. Nicolette Schipper-van Veldhoven at Windesheim University of Applied Science, Zwolle Netherlands (February 2016).

Summary (taken from Dutch version p 5, 6) “Sport is popular. In the Netherlands, the sports club is one of the most important sites for sports participation of youth. Among ages 518 years, 1.6 million Dutch children are members of a sports club and all of them have physical education at school. Organized youth sport is an important socializing context for children and adolescents. In this way, sport has become known as the third pedagogical environment. Participation offers possibilities to learn, both consciously and subconsciously. Sports offer children specific new experiences and new ways to act through engagement in practice. Researchers agree that pure engagement in sports does not automatically lead to positive outcomes and improved social, psychological and/or moral character. However, sports can also lead to the opposite: egotism, arrogance, bullying and discrimination. In this way, sport has two faces. Effects are largely shaped by the context of youth sport participation. Our research group is investigating this context from the pedagogical perspective. The central question is: how can trainers, coaches, physical educators, athletes, parents and sports administrators (federations and sports clubs) make sure that ‘sport’ is a context for the youngster which primary focuses on the positive effects of participating in sports? How can they diminish the negative effects? In other words, how can we create a positive and safe sport climate? The pedagogical function of sport is more than strengthening good didactics and methods. Transferring values, respect, relationship, improve skills, communication tools, self-esteem reinforcement and strengthening overall personal and environmental awareness (their body, the team, the opponent) all play an important part. From the pedagogical point of view there is a plea for children’s rights: all children have the right to practice sports in (socially) safe circumstances and to be trained and guided by competent people. Practitioners and researchers need to do more to present how this pedagogically relevant environment needs to be structured and guided to realize these positive effects that organized sport (sports club and physical education at school) is so eager to claim.”     Sports and physical education from a pedagogical perspective: a golden opportunity. Schipper- van Veldhoven, N. H.M.J. (2017)                                    Deventer (NL): daM publishers Full tekst inaugural lecture Prof Dr Nicolette Schipper-Veldhoven (English) find here .  

Sport as the third pedagogical environment:
The Netherlands has a population of 17 million people and 2,4 million youngsters under 18 participate in sports. Two-thirds of the youngsters join in organized sports. It is not thus surprising that children and youngsters who take part in sports do not only learn to improve their motor skills and sports tactics, but also to develop other areas of their life. Belonging to ‘the world of sport’ is very beneficial in one’s emotional, cognitive and social development as well.

 “Sport is an important context: in sport, contact can be made with relative ease, and offers experimental space for the acquisition of actual learning experiences

(Janssens et al., 2004, p. 27 in Schipper- van Veldhoven, 2017).

Regarding to the importance of coaches, Schipper-van Veldhoven quotes Bailley:

The actions and interactions of teachers and coaches can determine to a large extent, whether children and young people experience the positive effects of physical education and sport, and whether or not they realize their great potential. Contexts that emphasize positive experience, characterised by enjoyment, diversity and the engagement of all, and that are managed by committed and trained trainers and coaches, as well as supportive and informed parents, are fundamental.

(Bailley, 2006, p. 399).

Hekker, Karamat and van Veldhoven (2011) describe five important contextual factors that influence the joy of participating in sports, and the feeling of belonging to the club:

  • the quality of guidance offered by trainers and coaches
  • the organizational context (schedules, facilities etc)
  • the type of sport
  • the characteristics of the athlete
  • the social environment (parents and peers)

In addition, Schipper-van Veldhoven states in her inaugural lecture that: “Children flourish more when they grow up in an environment where the development of the child is appreciated more than the performance itself (Hassandra, Goudas, & Chroni, 2003) in which they are coached in a positive way (Diaz, 2005) and where the trainer/coach/teacher has good communication skills (Van Sterkenburg, Lucassen, & Janssens, 2002). (Schipper-van Veldhoven, 2017, p17)

The reflective coach who is eager to do his utmost best for the benefit of the young athlete points his ears, hearing Mrs Schipper-van Veldhoven giving him a big responsibility! Looking to the mirror he may ask himself: Do I give a higher importance to development in a broad way, do I coach in a positive way and what about my communication level?

Schipper-van Veldhoven states, that a positive pedagogical climate is of a big importance to keep youngsters attached to sports: “In general, it can be concluded that a pedagogical climate is a safe learning climate where pleasure prevails, created by real experience of success, a good relationship between coaches (…) and athletes (…) which is based on mutual respect – in which one acts in the interest of (the development) of young individuals (with the aim of becoming the autonomous self).” (Schipper-van Veldhoven, 2017, p 27) Three aspects are distinguished: the interest of the young athlete, the pedagogical relationship and the ‘fun-factor’. Especially the last aspect fun, turns out to be the most important for young athletes and the most mentioned reason to leave the club. They mention they experience too little fun. (NOC*NSF/GfK, Sportersmonitor [Athletes monitor], 2012).

The perfect coach anno 2020 must be ‘pedagogically competent’ which means “that he can create a safe, supportive and motivating educational climate for his pupils. He monitors the development of his pupils and regards their learning and behaviour. He tunes his actions according to them. He contributes to the social-emotional and moral developments of his pupils” (Schipper-van Veldhoven 2017, p 29). He is autonomous, socially responsible, reflective, communicative and culturally sensitive, just as the ideal pupil (p34). However, the daily practice of coaching is not ideal, a lot of coaches are used to the idea that they know what’s best for the youngsters, to the idea that they stand above them. They forget to take into account that, although they are not equal, they are of an equivalent importance to the youngsters. Schipper-van Veldhoven challenges the coaches to give the floor to the young individuals, as it contributes significantly to the feeling of being competent in many ways.[1] This makes them feel like partners in their own development, this empowers them in becoming young individuals with their own responsibility an autonomy and ‘internal leadership’. Awareness of the coach-responsibility in this way is essential!

A small step aside: the club

Schipper-van Veldhoven uses a famous African proverb to emphasize the importance of the sport club as a co-determining factor in the pleasure young athletes bounds to their sport: “It takes a village to raise a child”. When athletes quit, “the reason for the drop out is largely caused by the sports clubs, not that much by the sport itself. A mismatch between the sports offer and the audience, an unpleasant atmosphere” and/or organizational shortcomings are causes connected with the clubs, which largely explains the drop out of athletes (Baar, 2003). A good pedagogical and safe policy on the sports climate which is in accordance with the needs of the young individuals, does not only contribute to gains through sport, but also to ‘gains in sport’ (retention of members, staff, participation objective). (“Schipper-van Veldhoven 2017, p51). Obviously this is a very important aspect of an integral policy to prevent drop out in sports. However, the focus of this article is especially on the role of the coach.

What’s more? Responsibility!

Vela, Oades and Crowe investigated whether coaching practitioners desire outcomes for athletes that reach beyond on-field success and incorporate constructs that are associated with positive development. They interviewed 22 Australian coaches. “Results suggest that coaches see themselves as responsible for facilitating eight interrelated and interdependent themes (…..): competence, confidence, connection, character, life skills, climate, positive affect and positive psychological capacities” (2011 S. Vella et all, abstract). This seems too much to realize for an ‘ordinary’ grassroot-level coach who works on a voluntary basis in many countries. Of course, all these intentions are creditable, but maybe not realistic. This brings us to the next question.

What’s essential?

 “Doing the right thing, at the right time, also in the eyes of the kids”. Easy answer to a big question. An answer which is easy to understand but with huge consequences. Because it turns around the coach-centered thinking of the traditional sports philosophy. In the Netherlands the influence of this pedagogical concept is growing. ‘Doing the right thing, at the right time, also in the eyes of the kids is the definition of Pedagogical Tact as formulated by NIVOZ, the Dutch Institute of Educational Matters (Nederlands Instituut voor Onderwijs en Opvoedingszaken) (Doodewaard 2019). Doodewaard recently introduced this concept in the Bachelor degree program for teachers of physical education and -together with Schipper-van Veldhoven- in the Masterstudies in Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy (Master PESP). This concept turns out to connect close to the fundamentals of the Calo, the faculty of Human Movement and Sport of the Windesheim University of Applied Science (WUAS).[2]

What’s essential? “Pedagogical tact requires attention, love and trust. Attention to what is vulnerable. Attention to the wish to question your own assumptions, attention to the wish to reflect on your own acting and the intention to be mild in your judgment about kids” (Doodewaard 2019, p 7). The importance of a pedagogical climate in sports is based  on the principals of ‘basic psychological needs’ according to the self-determination theory of Ryan and Deci (2000): to be able to learn and develop children (people in general) need a positive relation with others, need to feel competent and need to experience autonomy. These three core concepts – relation, competency and autonomy – are essential to create a learning context for youngsters in sports. Ryan and Deci discovered that youngster experience well-being, motivation, effort and sense of learning, if these three essential needs are measured up to. If one of the three is shortened, motivation problems arise. Pointed out to the core business of the Kidmove project can be stated that prevention of drop out from sport starts with paying attention to ensure that the relations youngsters have within sports are experienced positively, that they are able to feel competent (one way or another, maybe not especially in motorial skills) and that they feel autonomous.

Why?

Why should we bother for full participation of youngsters? Not because of the honour of the sport, the importance of the club or the benefit of the country! Just because of the youth itself! In search for a pedagogical source that gives words to this opinion, among others we are charmed by the vison of Janusz Korczak, a Jewish-Polish educator and paediatrician (1878 – 1942) “Children are not simple adults, but full-fledged people who can take initiative and take responsibility.” He is considered to be the father of children’s rights and his ideas are still relevant today.

Korczak’s approach to children is most strongly expressed in the three rights he describes. He probably is the first to speak and write about children’s rights. In summary this deals with the following points.

1) Children have the right to be who they are, just the way they are. Every child is special, according to Korczak. His educational advice in this area is: do not try to turn a child into something different than he or she really is. The most important competences for trainers and coaches (as it is for teachers and parents) is to observe very carefully and to try to understand what the child needs.

2) Children have the fundamental right on “today”. For Korczak, childhood is more than a preparation for adult life. Children should not only learn for later, they should also feel good, have fun and lead their lives as valuable people here and now. Korczak states that children are able to take responsibility and take initiative from an early age. Respect forthe children is the key word. Ans respect for their capabilities

3) Children have the right on their own risk. Korczak writes about this: „For fear that death will tear the child out of our lives, we deprive the child of the right to live.“ With this, Korczak wants to provoke the thinking about the children overprotection by adults. Even if we are afraid of bumps and bruises, the child wants to play, discover and live and this includes the necessary falls and injuries. Because of our fears, we just prevent children from learning to assess dangers themselves, while they can, according to Korczak.

It took some time before this message was understood and taken into account in education. It seems to take even more time to implement this in daily sports life. However, in 2010 the Charter on children’s rights in sport was published by the World Player Association

How?

On political level the Charter on children’s rights in sports mentions for example the following consequences.

“As part of the numerous issues identified, World Players has identified five action areas to address through social dialogue and engagement with international sporting bodies and employers in sport: (…..)

c) Area Three: To ensure the proper and safe recruiting and training of coaches, personal trainers, intermediaries, club staff and other employees, workers and agents who work with children, including through:

i) the requisite contractual provisions that require adherence to national, regional, UN, ILO, UNICEF and UNESCO standards and principles including applicable guidelines, codes and policies that give effect to such standards and principles; and

ii) implementing and maintaining an effective licensing system which includes minimum requirements such as specific skills, training, criminal background checks and psychological evaluation.

d) Area Four: Encourage sporting employers and bodies to provide a child-friendly general education environment for children players and athletes to ensure that they can pursue their right to an education and to develop their personality, talents and abilities in full. “

[World Players Association 2010, p 5].

It appears that, besides the responsibility of the coaches and trainers on the grassroots level, who may have the biggest influences on good a safe sports experiences, the boards of local and national level have an important duty to fulfil. They have to facilitate good work on the grassroots level, especially when it comes to the principle of equivalence of adults and youngsters in sport. In the Netherlands NOC*NSF (Dutch national Olympic committee), the national sports associations, the educational degree programs in sports and physical education on NLQF-level 4, 5 and 6 and organizations like Special Heroes Foundation play an increasing and important role in the development of a youth-friendly sports policy. However not particularly mentioned in the policy documents, the ideas as written in the Charter on children’s rights in sports seems to be the basics of the current view on youngsters in sports. The seeds are planted, but it will take serious care and constant attention of everyone involved to let it grow, because a lot of other plants demand light, nutrition and water too.

On the grassroots level trainers and coaches have the difficult duty to organize the hours of training in a way the youngsters are challenged to perform their exercises in a safe and joyful way. To make proper choices in this, the trainers and coaches may use a manageable frame of reference. This frame of reference is shaped by experience and education, the last one most of the time offered by the national sports associations or universities of applied science or secondary vocational training. They have influence on the way coaches do their job on the grassroot level. Together with the Special Heroes Foundation the school of Human Movement and Sports (Calo), Windesheim University of Applied Science (WUAS) in the Netherlands is responsible for the Dutch blogs as mentioned in the introduction. At Calo-WUAS we base our didactic action -among others- on the theory of Social Constructivism of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934). Although his concern probably was to improve school education, his assumptions work in the world of training and sport as well: create a context with ‘important others’ that challenges the children to explore their possibilities and they will develop their potential.

“Zone of proximal development. According to Vygotsky, the level of functioning of a child is determined both by innate possibilities and by the extent to which these possibilities are realized. (….)  He wants the child to reach a higher level, if necessary with the help of a teacher (trainer, coach). The latter plays an important role in his theory. Vygotsky states that the child learns in connection with what he or she is already capable of, but it must be new or challenging to actually speak of learning.

Educators (coaches, trainers) can help the child to bridge the gap between what he can do here and now and what he is able to develop, if necessary with some help. Against this background, Vygotsky introduces the term „zone of proximal development.“ This zone relates to an individual’s potential learning opportunities. What a child is able to do alone is the current level of development and what he can do with the help of another is his potential level of development.” (Blijswijk, 2018, translated and modified by Verschuur).

Exploring from the comfort zone into the zone of proximal development, youngsters will be eager to learn more and better. By far most of the youngsters will experience joy and safe sports if these exploring steps are rather small and there is time to learn step by step. A too big jump into the zone of proximal development reaches to the outer border of these zone, meeting the ‘panic zone’. Only a very few people will learn and develop in the panic zone. We think no one feels safe or has fun.

Both in the comfort zone as in the zone of proximal development coaches and trainers can ‘provide a child-friendly general education environment for children players and athletes’ (World Player Association). Trainers and coaches should have lifelong opportunities to develop pedagogical and didactical skills so they are able to facilitate good learning in save and joy full sports!

Hence!

The Kidmove-project collected good practices. Team NL produced three practical blogs, based on the theories in this article.

  • NL1 Over-excited youngsters
  • NL2 How to keep youngsters bound to the sportsclub
  • NL3 The fun-factor of moving

Find these blogs with video’s and many more on www.kidmove.eu

References

Bailey, R. (2006). Physical Education and Sports in schools: A Review of the Benefits and Outcomes.

Journal of School Health, 77, pp. 397-401.

Blijswijk, R. van. (2018) Lev Vygotsky and the zone of closest development: „By working together and in conversation, people are able to achieve things that are new“ retrieved from https://nivoz.nl/nl/lev-vygotsky-en-de-zone-van-naaste-ontwikkeling-door-samen-te-werken-en-in-gesprek-te-zijn-zijn-mensen-in-staat-tot-dingen-te-komen-die-nieuw-zijn

Doodewaard, C. van (2019) Pedagogische tact is makkelijk, totdat het moeilijk wordt ….. Lichamelijke opvoeding magazine 4, mei 2019.

Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), pp. 68-78.

Schipper-van Veldhoven, N. (2016). Sport en lichamelijke opvoeding in pedagogisch perspectief, een gouden kans (Lectorale rede). Zwolle: Windesheimreeks kennis en onderzoek nr. 60

Schipper- van Veldhoven, N. H.M.J. (2017). Sports and physical education from a pedagogical perspective: a golden opportunity. Deventer: daM publishers. 

Schipper-van Veldhoven, N. (2018). Een pedagogisch- en veilig sportklimaat. In Bronkhorst, A, Van der Kerk, J., & Schipper-van Veldhoven, N. (Eds.). Een pedagogisch sportklimaat; het realiseren van een positieve clubcultuur. Uitgeverij Coutinho. Bussum, pp. 21-29

Vella, S., Oades, L. G. & Crowe, T. P. (2011). The role of the coach in facilitating positive youth development: Moving from theory to practice. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 23 (1), 33-48.

World player association (2010) Charter on children’s rights in sport https://www.uniglobalunion.org/sites/default/files/imce/world_players_declaration_on_safeguarding_the_rights_of_child_athletes.pdf


[1] This is also the main goal of the Erasmus+ -project Kidmove: giving the kids a voice! This results in events with all targetgroups. The meaningful theme of these events is “I want …….”

[2] Two Dutch members of the Kidmove-team NL work at WUAS. The third TeamNLmember represents Special Heroes which is in their vision and mission closely related to the Calo-fundamentals.