Professor David Lubans is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow who is delivering a range of innovative school programs designed to up-skill teachers in physical education and re-engage teens.
“Approximately a quarter to a third of young people in Australia report moderate to high levels of psychological distress at some point in their adolescence. That’s just the ones who get detected,” Lubans said.
“There’s no question that our society has changed and that young people are more engaged in screen-based recreation, they are doing less physical activity, and they are more likely to be overweight or obese – three times more likely than previous generations.
“If you put all those things together, it isn’t surprising that the mental health of a large percentage of young people isn’t optimal. Physical activity represents such a great opportunity; if provided in the right context, it can help reduce stress, provide an opportunity for social interaction and enhance self-concept.”
Lubans’ ARC Future Fellowship project will provide schools with teacher training and equipment that will impact on their ability and capacity to deliver programs that foster lifelong physical activity.
The first phase of his fellowship will involve an evaluation of the programs using a randomised controlled trial. Importantly, the second phase of the project will involve the dissemination of the programs throughout NSW secondary schools in collaboration with the Department of Education & Communities School Sport Unit.
“I would like to think we have a role to play in giving everyone a chance to feel good in the physical domain,” Lubans said. “If adolescents only ever think of PE as competitive team sports and don’t get an opportunity to experience success – they make the decision that: ‘I’m not a sporty kid, I can’t do that,’ and they drop out of activities altogether.
“Giving teens the opportunity to succeed in the physical domain can impact on their physical self-concept, which can influence their overall wellbeing.
Non-traditional school activities will be introduced into schools, including resistance training, yoga and Pilates.
However, the program doesn’t just give teachers information about what to teach, it provides guidance on how to teach.
“In a lot of poorly designed PE lessons, the focus is on competition and peer comparison. Using poor teaching strategies thwarts needs satisfaction rather than making students feel good. An example would be having two captains picking their team mates – there would be kids and adults who are still scarred from the experience of being picked last for teams in their PE lessons,” Lubans said.
“Our professional learning program will encourage teachers to be more autonomy supportive by applying teaching principles guided by self-determination theory, which can lead to improved student outcomes and wellbeing.”
Learn more about UON’s Faculty of Education and the Arts Research Directions in 2015.