Positive Learning Using Sports:Sport-based Education

Jeffrey Beedy Ed.D

“Working carefully and conscientiously over 30 years, bringing the best research has to bare, Beedy has produced Positive Learning Using Sports. This no nonsense, level headed approach to the integration of academics, ethics and engagement for youth needs to be part of every school’s agenda.””

Robert L. Selman, Ph. D Harvard University

PLUS is a global campaign to raise awareness of the potential of sport as a natural, accessible, and inexpensive platform to transform young people’s lives for the better. PLUS partners with local communities, schools and organizations to train leaders how to better use sports to teach self- advocate, mindfulness, non-violent communication, and respect. PLUS envisions a world where all sport-based organizations teach what children need to live safe, happy lives. We seek to reach children who may be marginalized due to ability, ethnicity, geography, and economics. PLUS aims to be locally inspired and self-reliant and focus on creating and developing sustainable and replicable results.

The PLUS Model

The PLUS Model is a comprehensive, integrated and developmental sport-based educational program that draws upon longstanding educational theory and research- based educational practice that serves school-aged children. PLUS’s Six Core Principles serve as a guide for training and evaluating all community stakeholders, a guide for the adoption of policies, and informs how values are taught, learned, and measured.

1. People and community

Before any activity begins all people involved must be aligned with the Skills Center Philosophy and sense of community. A sense of community is defined by how each member of the team or community is known, needed, cared for, and by their opportunity to shape the environment.

2. Philosophy: What is important?

The philosophy of our program defines why we are doing what we are doing and what we want to accomplish. In this sense, our program’s philosophy drives all of our decisions and serves as a template as we think about issues ranging from distribution of playing time to how we address social and moral issues as a team and provide opportunities for learning. Character is defined as the development of the social and emotional skills necessary to make good decisions. The PLUS Model employs five values: Teamwork, Respect, Responsibility, Fair Play and Perseverance. The benefits of physical activity are well documented. Research suggests that a physically active child has a more positive self-image, greater self-confidence, and demonstrates improvement in motor skills, cognitive functioning (Entire et al., 1997) and health-related fitness. Studies from the American Council on Exercise have shown that physically active children also are more likely to become physically active adults.

3. Psychology: How is what’s important caught?

How do you know your students are learning? We need to be cognizant of how children learn in general, and, specifically, how children learn important program goals such as teamwork and responsibility. The PLUS Model turns to and employs the common theories of how people learn including the Social Learning Theory, The Behavioral Learning Theory and the Cognitive Development Learning Theory.

4. Pedagogy: How is what’s important taught?

How we “teach and coach” can be understood as our pedagogy. If one of our goals is to teach teamwork, for example, it is important to explore the best ways to teach the concept of working together. Our team’s pedagogy takes into account our team’s philosophy and psychology as well as our program’s outcome goals.

PLUS Learning Cycle The Skills Center employs this daily rhythm the PLUS Cycle, which consists of a Warm-up followed by an Activity concluded with a Cool-down. This consistent structure provides the youth leaders with continuous opportunities to gather the team, reflect on the process and set new goals. The PLUS Cycle is where group dialogue takes place.

1.The Warm-up phase of the cycle allows the coach to quiet the chaos and direct the social and psychological attention of the children towards the goals of the day.

2.The Activity phase is the active part of the practice or game where teachable moments occur.

3.The Cool-down meeting provides the team with an opportunity to reflect, dialogue, and set new goals, and to put the PLUS Cycle in motion once again.

Viewed in this way, the PLUS Cycle allows the team and coach to transition from one activity to another. Most importantly, the PLUS Cycle allows the coach to be a respectful teacher.

5. Programs: What are your learning activities?

Basically, all of the activities that we design including practices, team meetings, team orientations, readings and rituals make up what we call our Program. The cooking class, academic classroom and exercise in the parks are programs that deliver the PLUS model and Skills Center mission. The program activities are the places in which the learning takes place. It is important to expand our vision of what it means to play on our team. Sports can be much more than practices and games. The “coach as teacher” understands that within the program or season there are many ways to bring the team together and provide opportunities for learning.

Literacy and Moral Theme Comprehension

The literacy component of the Sports PLUS Program attempts to accomplish two central goals. First, it attempts to increase children’s’ interest in and appreciation for literature by exposing them to the kinds of stories they like and are interested in — namely, sport stories. Secondly, Sports PLUS attempts to increase students’ moral theme comprehension by providing them with a script for considering the important elements regarding the moral of the story. Learning to ask critical comprehension questions of a text allows students to consistently extract the moral of future stories they read or in which they are involved.

6. Progress: How do we know our children are learning what’s important?

Valid sport-based programs seek to prove their validity. The new science of sport-based learning provides tools for coaches and teachers to define their program’s outcome goals (i.e., teamwork, respect, responsibility), and design pre- and post-tests to determine how successful their program was in promoting those goals. It is one thing to state, “sports are good for everyone” and quite another to announce teamwork as a desired outcome goal and have the ability to demonstrate how well the program did to

Definable, observable and measurable

The Leadership Ladder provides teachers and coaches with a way to teach and measure important outcome goals. To make values come to life and have meaning for children, they must be made observable, measurable, and understandable. This is also true in terms of being able to measure these goals. Words like teamwork, responsibility, and respect are simply too abstract for children to understand (adults too, but for different reasons!). They need to be defined and reinforced through observable behaviors. Asking players to bring their equipment to practice is an example of teamwork, it presents a concrete behavior that can be observed and understood. “If you don`t bring your equipment, you won`t be able to practice the drills with the rest of the team and you won`t be ready for the contribute to the team.” Here is a behavior that can be understood by the children; pointed out and reinforced by the coach and in the end measured.

Using Levels to measure all core values

The Leadership Ladder scale can be used to scale any value or outcome goal. The scale provides five levels on which both general and specific behaviors can fall. For example, a child who hurts someone`s feelings is detracting in relation to the value of respect. On the positive side, a child who reminds her teammate to bring her equipment to practice is demonstrating concern for others and is at the leader end of the scale. A person who neither detracts nor actively contributes but only observes is at level two.

This scale is a tool to help you provide meaning to the core values. With a common language and commonly understood levels of behavior, your students will be in a better position to engage in meaningful dialogue. This in turn helps children begin to transfer the lessons learned in school, dorm and sports to other situations in life. When both the teacher and the child recognize where a behavior falls on the Leadership scale, the coach and child can then set goals for the child to move up the scale by changing specific behaviors.

Intrinsic Motivation

PLUS seeks to cultivate a self-referenced approach to motivation (what the research literature calls a “task or mastery orientation”) that is built upon a cyclical pattern of personal goal setting, monitoring, and reformulation.

The PLUS Program when implemented in its entirety can have a profound impact on the children and community. The following principles are key to creating a holistic and replicable PLUS Program.

Educational medium

Educational medium understands that sports possess the unique social and educational components to promote collaboration and engage in dialogue and conflict resolution. Children learn best when involved with activities and people they enjoy.


Inclusion includes children who may be marginalized for reasons of gender, religion, ability, ethnicity, disability or social background.


Transferability is based on the fact that lessons learned about critical thinking and problem solving from sports are transferable to other areas of a child’s life including home and school.

Strengthen local self-reliance

The goal of PLUS is to be regionally inspired, locally supported, and with sustainability and replication as the long-term goals. PLUS seeks to strengthen the capacities of local organizations and promote community self-reliance through sustainable strategies.


Integration seeks to connect and utilize all aspects of community including classrooms, sports, boarding in the educational process.

Sustainability PLUS

Sustainability PLUS builds the community’s capacity to take full ownership of the program following the active project implementation. The ultimate goal is to hand over the program to the community


An important goal of PLUS is for schools around the world to replicate the principles of the program in their respective schools.

Basic Principles of Sport-based education

The children’s passion for sports is the draw. Sport is the platform. The key for all programs is intentionality. Simply rolling out the ball and expecting something magical will occur and children will somehow learn to persist in the face of difficulties is wishful thinking. What makes this new movement compelling is that so many children around the world love to play sports. Passion and fun attract the children to programs. Participation and intrinsic motivation are key to hope and development.

Sport-based education (SBE) is using sports intentionally to teach and develop targeted cognitive, social, psychological, moral, and physical outcome goals. Sport-based education involves the synthesis of relevant research and sports.

1. Utilize children’s intrinsic passion for sport

2. Teach out of the challenges arise naturally when children engage in sports

3. Create intentional outcome goals

4. Train coaches teachers on how to educate for outcome goals

5. Employ multiple sport-related mediums to teach such as project-based activities, film, art, and literature.

6. Integrate philosophy, psychology, pedagogy in creating intentional curriculum and programs for the purpose of targeted education outcomes.

7. Understand that character and social skills are both taught and caught

8. Outcome goals can be identified, monitored, and measured

​Dr. Beedy is a leader in the field of child development. At Harvard, he studied with psychologists Lawrence Kohlberg and Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Robert Coles

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