World of sport

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Phys Ed teachers respond to Covid-19 as a global community

PE and sport in schools has been profoundly affected by the pandemic. Phil Mathe hates the constraints, but describes how PE teachers around the world have come together like never before to find solutions for their students.

Reaching out in frustration

When I was a teenager, I tore my hamstring. I wasn’t dying, but it was frustrating. It wasn’t bad enough to stop me walking around, but as soon as I tried to play any sport it would go again. That frustration of not being able to function as wanted to, is something many PE teachers have been feeling recently, like we’ve pulled a hamstring. For sports people there is nothing worse than wanting to do something and not being able to.
Lockdown, distance learning, home schooling. Whatever you called it, amounted to the same few things. No sport, exercise indoors, transition online. Create, evolve, adapt. During lockdown I reached out across twitter to gather the thoughts of teachers from across the world. We’ve all been very much in the same boat.

It’s gone on forever, or at least it feels like it. I’ve never worked so hard, so much, in all y time as a teacher. Martin UK

Adaptation, stage 1: movement

First we transitioned online. Weeks passed, then months, then until the summer and now (at least in part) until January. It’s been an extraordinary time, one that we never wish to experience again and yet in amongst the chaos some amazing adaptations have been made, especially in Physical Education.

“We’ve desperately tried to make it fun for them (our pupils) as life has been devoid of so much fun for them.” Fred, UK

PE teachers by nature obsess about activity. We want pupils to move. The adaptation to online learning was a challenge for those who couldn’t envisage practical lessons on a screen. Initially, we turned to the internet and online exercise classes for inspiration. I would imagine video sharing sites are full to bursting with PE teacher’s exercise classes created during lockdown. There’s probably enough classes on there to keep people active for life, without ever having to purchase another gym membership!


“It has forced me to search for all kinds of new ways to help keep my pupils active at home. Its made me a much more creative teacher.” Jamie, USA

Adaptation, stage 2: skills

As time progressed and things stayed online, PE teaching had to adapt for the longer term. We couldn’t just provide gimmicky games and balcony-based exercise sessions. We are teachers of a core subject and, like every other subject, we had to deliver our content and curriculum otherwise we would let a whole generation down. Back came the rackets and bats, lessons returned to skills and technique and turned away from fitness-based sessions. Obviously this came with a whole host of problems that individual schools and teachers had to overcome. Where was the equipment, how would pupils get access to it, what about those without it? In my department we developed ways to create equipment out of things pupils would have around their homes, establishing means through which pupils and parents could access equipment and developing resources to help parents support the learning of their children at home.

“I had to think of ways to inspire our pupils to stay as movers and doers, just in more innovative ways than before.” Kimberley, USA

PE returns

Slowly the PE world has started to return. I now see comments every day from PE teachers gearing up to return to their sports halls, pools and fields. In Abu Dhabi, the return to PE is some way off. We’re still delivering online and our face to face lessons have evolved into PE theory. We long for a return to practical lessons but are far more comfortable delivering quality online than we were all those months ago. Our health and safety focused, socially distanced plan has been sat on my desk for months. The day that call comes, my nerves will jump a little. Just like pupils had to adapt to a totally new way of learning, we’ve adapted to this new style of teaching PE and returning to our origins will feel wonderful, but quite strange I’m sure.

“Throughout it all, I focused on trying to innovate, create and learn, to try and make me a stronger educator in the long run.” Sarah, Bangkok

Global PE community

In PE, our teaching evolves constantly as new sports are created, new coaching techniques developed and new teaching methods appear. The COVID-19 period has supercharged this. We’ve evolved and developed so much and there is now a whole generation of PE teachers with skills and knowledge that would never have been gained otherwise. We’ve built websites, listened to and created podcasts, held and attended webinars, all in an attempt to feel supported and be supportive. While lockdown shut us away from each other, away from fixtures, tournaments, trips and travel, it feels like the global PE community has come together like never before. I communicate with colleagues and peers from across the world, sharing best practice and supporting teaching. New networks have appeared, driven by the organisations that support PE and Sport, that will last far longer than the pandemic.

“It was an opportunity to press reset on much that we had done previously, just because it was always done that way. We should respect PE traditions but we on longer need to be governed by them” Daniel, UK

I truly hope that when we return to our sports halls and our fields, that the lasting PE legacy of 2020 is the spirit of collaborative creativity that has evolved, and the bravery of PE teachers to embrace it.



Phil Mathe is Director of Sport at Brighton College Al Ain in the UAE, having previously led PE departents in Egypt and Kenya. His passions include driving participation levels in pupils and embracing technology in PE teaching.




Feature Image: by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Support images: kindly provided by Phil

Further Reading: PE adapts for social distancing and virtual learning