Bring Sports Inside the Classroom

Research sports to foster an interest in afterschool engagement, and see your students grow more creative and focused.

By Cathy Neushul

girl posing with soccer ball

Sometimes, school performance can be directly related to exercise. This is because generally, physical health and mental acuity are inextricably tied. If students are too fidgety and need to release some energy, they will be unable to sit still or focus; consequently, they won’t learn. Often, teachers recognize this fact when they are dealing with younger children, but in actuality, for both younger and older children, physical activity is a necessity. 

At the elementary school level, schools recognize the need for exercise. Teachers give children time to run around and play, and recesses are included in the school schedule. But this is not enough movement for many learners. Kids need extended periods of exercise, at least a couple of days per week. With all the time spent in the classroom, in front of a television, or playing video games, there is a real need for children to exercise a regular basis. One way to accomplish this is through participation in some type of afterschool sport or physical activity. However, many kids are just not interested in doing something extra after school, especially something physical! Get them interested by introducing them to a variety of physical activities through some cross-curricular investigations. Who knows? Once they start learning about the wide variety of sports, they just might decide to try something new.

Spark an Interest in Sports

In order to pique your students’ interest in sports, offer some classroom lessons about sports that will also fulfill their academic needs. For instance, you can ask each pupil to write an article relating to a sporting event or to learn about aerodynamics and biomechanics in relation to sports equipment. Discussing sports in this way can provide individuals with a unique way to connect some of their abstract concepts to practical applications. Whether they are in elementary, middle, or high school, students can find some topic relating to sports that sparks their interest. 

Everyone knows about the most popular afterschool sports: football, soccer, hockey, or basketball. But get the class thinking outside the box by brainstorming some of the more obscure "sports" like ballet, hip-hop, snowboarding, BMX racing, skateboarding, surfing, fencing, rugby and/or lacrosse. Show video excerpts from the X Games, the Olympics, or a surf contest and then discuss how athletes in different sports gauge improvement and success. Start with a class discussion comparing the differences between sports that are subjective (judged) verses objective (time/number of points). 

Spotlight on Sports Research Project

Next, you can have your class get into small groups. Ask each individual to think about whether he/she would prefer to participate in an objective sport, or a subjective sport, and why. After personal reflection, give the groups time to share their personal observations with other members of the small group. Perhaps a few students will become more open-minded about trying a different sport. Next, each group should choose a sport for a group research project. They can find out about the history of the sport, describe how it is played, and talk about the way that stats and scores for the games are tallied and analyzed. The end product should involve a presentation that can be shared with the class. By allowing time for presentations, even if they are short, your pupils will be exposed to a few new sports in a short time frame. Exposure just might translate into student interest (ie. "I'd like to try lacrosse")

Investigate the Science of Sports Performance

Another way bring sports into the classroom is by focusing on the ways that athletes enhance their performance, such as using a particular type of ball that is designed to be aerodynamic, choosing to wear aerodynamic gear, or altering their stance/movements to make themselves more aerodynamic. Some athletes lift weights, some have agility training, some must strengthen their core muscles. In addition, nutrition for the best performance varies by sport. Take some time as a class, in small groups, or as a research project, to have your learners compare how different athletes enhance their performance. It is a great way to link science to real-life applications.

Another way to show your class an example of how science and sports are linked is by talking about baseball bats. Discuss the materials used to make baseball bats, and how the different materials affect performance. Pupils can go online to see how far and how fast, players can hit balls using different types of bats. They can record and graph their findings, and finish by making scientific conclusions and/or predictions as to which material is best for accuracy, which is best for distance, which for speed, etc. 

Individuals or small groups can then pick a sport and analyze how science could be used to improve an athlete’s performance. For example, figure skaters apply physics principles to achieve great heights. Your class can look online to see how every aspect of a skater’s performance can be scientifically analyzed. For example, they could calculate how fast someone has to skate in order to jump to a certain height. 

Issue a Sports Challenge

Granted, the science of sports might interest your class, but by itself, it's probably not going to inspire kids to participate in a new sport. However, it will help them develop an interest and an appreciation for sports. End the unit by encouraging each person to commit to trying a new physical activity at least three times during the next month. Put up a chart, or some kind of visual where they can record what they tried, and maybe something they discovered or appreciated while participating in the new activity. Offer extra recess, or some type of incentive if every class member follows through with the challenge. This is a win-win. Your learners have some academic experiences, and amidst the research and discovery, they just might have discovered a sport that they want to participate in regularly. Whether they try one new thing three times, three new things and quit, or find that they have a new sport to pursue, you'll have helped get the wiggles out, kept your students more focused, and quite possibly have laid the groundwork for establishing healthy habits, which will result in more focused learners. 

Afterschool Sports Lessons:

The Everyday Science of Sports

Your class will enjoy learning about the aerodynamics of golf balls. Students evaluate how different features affect performance. They learn about the sports equipment used in the Olympics and do research on a particular item.

Sports Journalism: The Game Story

Before writing a story about a sporting event, students analyze the elements of a good story. As a pre-cursor to a writing lesson with a sports theme, this would be a helpful resource. They use graphic organizers to list the information they want to use in their article.

Sports Journalism

Have your class learn about sports journalism with this lesson. Students write a story about a sporting event. This is a fun way to get your class thinking about sports.

Biomechanics of Sports

Use this lesson as a way to delve into biomechanics. Students watch a video describing how athletes use the principles of biomechanics to enhance performance. Your class could even evaluate their own movements to better understand this concept.