Reference: Stephanie Beni, Tim Fletcher & Déirdre Ní Chróinín (2017) Meaningful Experiences in Physical Education and Youth Sport: A Review of the Literature, Quest, 69:3, 291-312, DOI: 10.1080/00336297.2016.1224192
The abstract and section headings: The purpose of this research was to explore the empirical literature surrounding young people’s meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport. Five themes (social interaction, fun, challenge, motor competence, and personally relevant learning), drawn from the 50 papers reviewed, are positioned as possible future directions for the design and implementation of meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport. The authors conclude by indicating their belief that there is a need to develop pedagogies that enable teachers and coaches to promote meaningful experiences in these settings.
The section headings are: Methods, Results (Social Interactions, Fun, Challenge, Competition, Motor Competence, Personally Relevant Learning) Discussion, and Conclusion.
Introduction and conclusion: Meaning in physical education has had a central focus in the field for the past 50 years and more. Many scholars have argued for the inherent value of movement in meaning-making which enriches human existence, and many have explored meaning related to movement forms such as dance, aquatics, gymnastics and games. While, however, the prevalent focus has been on meaning and how meaning helps authors to describe participants’ experiences, Beni and colleagues argue that these particular uses of meaning could, instead, be described as meaningful. Adopting Kretchmer’s (2007, p.382) definition, they hold meaning (and therefor meaningfulness) to “include all emotions, perceptions, hopes, dreams, and other cognitions – in short, the full range of human experience.” Put simply, and again drawing on Kretchmer’s (2007) work, Beni et al. argue that meaningful experiences are those that hold “personal significance” (p. 382).
With the establishment of personal significance as the central facet of meaningfulness, Beni and colleagues position past, present and future experiences (including interactions with self and others, artifacts, content and pedagogies) as central in an individual’s willingness to ascribe meaning to particular events. In ascribing meaning individuals “seize upon, and take into ourselves, and become involved with” events which, in turn, become meaningful.
In seeking to better understand meaningfulness though these lenses, the authors aimed to explore the connections across individual experiences and identify elements of participation that surpass social and cultural differences in physical education and youth sport. They sought to identify common threads in the research that could be used to provide guidance to teachers and coaches about designing and facilitating meaningful experiences. Outside of their consideration of meaningful experiences, Beni et al. wanted to show why a focus on meaningfulness was needed and why meaningful engagement and meaning-making should be prioritised in physical education and youth sport.
Beni et al. concluded by stating that there was sufficient empirical evidence of the importance of meaningful experiences to start to play closer attention to the prioritization of such experiences. Indeed, they recommended that greater effort was needed “to position meaningful experiences as a priority element of physical education and youth sport participation.” They went as far as to say that meaningful engagement could be positioned as an organising concept in both physical education and youth sport settings.
The authors were, however, cautious in their recommendations and indicated that their findings offered an initial direction and presented a strong enough case to take meaningfulness up as a future programme of research. Having identified the importance of social interactions, fun, challenge, competition, motor competence, and personally relevant learning and having positioned this a framework to guide the planning and delivery of physical education and sport experiences, Beni and colleagues argued for the importance of a balanced approach to meaningfulness where these five criteria are used in combination and not isolation.
Finally, and in bringing the paper to a close, the authors held that their review has served two main purposes. Firstly, it provided empirical support, direction and guidance to teachers and coaches about designing and facilitating meaningful experiences. Secondly, it laid bare the gaps in the literature and provided a springboard to future research.
Tables and diagrams: There were no tables or diagrams.
The point of the paper: The paper brought together a not insignificant body of literature that had employed the idea of meaningfulness and meaning in physical education and youth sport. In doing so it allowed us (the authors and the physical education and youth sport communities) to see the connections and the gaps in our knowledge regarding these concepts. Fundamentally it positioned the five criteria of social interactions, fun, challenge, competition, motor competence, and personally relevant learning as important facets of physical education and youth sport.
The main arguments: They argued that personally relevant and/or human experiences are very important in physical education and youth sport when trying to engage young people and help them to value physical activity. Meaningfulness in the past present and hopefully the future serves a vehicle for activity, but it isn’t limited to motor competence (which has often been the focus of physical education particularly). Instead, the ways in which young people socially interact, the levels of fun, challenge, and competition, and the manner in which learning can be positioned as personally relevant are all important in creating meaningful physical education and youth sport.
The importance of this paper: This paper can be seen as the start of meaningful physical education’s journey. Consequently, this stands as the seminal paper regarding meaningful PE and, as such, should be a must read for anyone interested in this approach to teaching and learning in physical education.
The paper’s contribution to my knowledge: This paper reminds me of the value of exploration and investigation. It reminds me of the need not to simply run with ideas but to engage in reflection and contemplation and to problematize and wrestle with ideas. The ideas and five criteria that emerge from this paper make sense and that is testament to the hard work of the authors.
Summary of the paper in one or two sentences: Meaningfulness is an important outcome of physical education, and we need to be more explicit in our efforts to help young people experience meaningfulness through physical education and youth sport. Five, inter-related and connected criteria (social interactions, fun, challenge, competition, motor competence, personally relevant learning) lie at the heart of meaningful PE and the ways we fit these together will have an impact (hopefully positive) on the ways young people experience movement and physical activity.
To the Authors: I would welcome a response to this blog. If you wish to write a response to be published on PEPRN, please email me – A.J.B.Casey@lboro.ac.uk with the final text.
About the Twenty 20 Vision Blog: For many years I wrote a weekly blog. In fact, between 2011 and 2021 I accumulated a catalogue of more than 450 blogs. But then I hit a wall. I simply ran out of energy and time. Consequently, 2022 wasn’t a great year for PEPRN. Following a modernization of the blog by Philte (thanks), and recognising my enduring desire that this break be a blip and not an end, I’m back with a new format and renewed ambition.
During 2022 I acknowledged that I needed to run PEPRN differently and over time the idea of a “Twenty 20 vision” blog emerged. This was, in part, in tribute to T20 cricket (which I love) and 20/20 vision (which I used to have) and in part due to the recognition that PEPRN needed to be easier to write and therefore sustain.
The idea, therefore, is for me to read a paper in no more than twenty minutes using an approach I’ve often recommended to my students but never actually done myself. For each paper I will do a shallow dive, reading only (a) the abstract and section headings, (b) the introduction and conclusion, and (c) the tables and diagrams. All other writing will be ignored. With this information to hand, I will then write the blog in no more than 20 minutes (thus twenty 20) using the eight headers above. Whatever emerges will then be published (after a little editing because I make a lot of grammatical errors typing that fast). The aim is to make paper reading and blog writing manageable once again whilst maintaining the integrity and usefulness of PEPRN. I hope I have achieved this, but feedback is welcomed and invited. Please let me know how I can get better at this and how the blog can better serve the community.