One of the few things on which most people are agreed is that school sport should be fun. Whilst that might not always be obvious from the ways in which it is delivered – or the response of pupils to its demands – it is one of the few universal justifications for the inordinate expenditure of time, effort and resources that school games demand.
This should, therefore, make designing the programme relatively straightforward. By providing activities that are fun, widely agreed aims are readily met. Sadly, it’s not as simple as that. And the reason is that fun has a wide variety of faces; it is different things to different people. This means that ensuring fun requires a multi faceted sports provision.
So, where might the fun be? Most children, when asked to reflect on what they enjoyed most about playing in school teams, are united that the principal fun was playing with friends. The togetherness of teams forged over several years. Teams which experienced occasional spectacular triumphs, wins, losses, magic moments, sporadic disasters, funny moments and memorable trips. The excitement of competition and team cameraderie are not ability dependent, and teams of all standards can experience them. This is the fun for many children engaged by team games. Few cite winning as the thing they enjoyed most, despite the primacy often afforded to it.
For some children, the pursuit of excellence is a driver. Wins and competitive triumphs are a measure of this. However, these players are a minority.
For another minority, competition only brings stress. Science is conclusive that some people thrive in a competitive environment; others find only anxiety, and make every effort to avoid these situations. They might be engaged by other activity outcomes, such as adventure, discovery or the pursuit of collaborative goals, but vanquishing an opponent holds no appeal.
Others are driven by the joy of movement, the thrill of skilled performance, or the challenge of the environment – whether that be a golf course or mountain. Mastery – of self, task or fear – is a common sense of satisfaction that can be encountered in physical activity. For some, that comes through acquisition of new skills; for others through creative movement
For many, the joy of hard physical effort, and its legacy of endorphine release is enough in itself. Learning the fun of making one’s best effort, and resisting the temptation to stop, is a valued outcome, both for its physiological impact, but also the development of personal qualities
So suddenly, the landscape becomes complicated. The simple fact is that fun is not a single outcome, but a generic term for a range of impacts which appeal differently to individuals.
Therefore, the only way to provide fun in the games programme is through a wide range of experiences. The point of variety is to maximize the chance of each individual discovering where they find fun in physical activity. The purpose of choice is to allow the pursuit of fun, and the rejection of activities in which that person finds no fun.
In essence, fun is an individual response. It is impossible therefore to specify an activity and demand that all participants find fun in it. There is no universal prescription for fun. The only solution is a programme of wide experience that exposes children to ways of finding their own fun, and encourages, and rewards, the individual journey of discovery. Where fun is concerned, one size does not fit all.