There is an educational and recreational approach to sport that is closer to playing than to competing, and this is associated to the school context. This approach is illustrated from the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); in particular, referring to articles 12 (Respect to their opinion), 29 (Objectives in education), and especially 31 (Leisure, recreation and cultural activities), which indicate a number of guidelines we can relate to sport in the school context. It is aimed on the one hand to think about the way in which, from the adult world, the school sport is organized, and what effects it has on boys, girls, and adolescents. On the other hand, it shows the importance that the acceptance and subsequent implementation of the “rights approach” has in school sport, as an essential element of integration and social cohesion. The consequences of applying Art.12 (Respect to their opinion) imply that the opinions that students may have about the School Sport, should be heard. It’s not simply a matter of providing some activities due to a social trend or as a result of the preferences of adults, but to meet the needs of the child based on their integral development as a person, that is, from their Best Interest.

Within the socio-legal debates on the interpretation of the law, and in the concrete case of the articles of the CRC, seems there aren’t many confronted discussions, since consensus on the Best Interest is usually the interpretative base. Therefore, and from Art.29 (Objectives in education), we can interpret the role of the school is not limited to the development of mental abilities of the child – as we have been defending for several years. As it is clear from the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, education should include the child’s abilities in the field of creativity and the arts, crafts, sports and professional skills; physical capacity, from simple motor coordination to activities such as swimming, gymnastics, ball games, etc.; the development of personality on the basis of their needs in the framework of their integral development as individuals, which is – or should be above any other interest – the aspect that poses major challenges for schools and teachers.

Our research shows the actual practice of school sport can include those recreational activities to develop skills and values, complementary to the physical activity. When we address in high schools this vision of sport from Art.31 (Leisure, recreation and cultural activities), most boys positively value that they can mainly play soccer; but digging deeper into this topic we can record some discouraging comments, especially concerning the role of the adults and their aggressive behavior. Moreover, when we propose if they wouldn’t like to have an alternative, the girls start to contribute in the debate. (You can read the TESTIMONIALS from Aitor, 14 and Paula, 13). If we now link these issues with the implications arising from the right to participation, this time from the gender perspective, we refer 20 years later, to the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women that already in 1995 stated from Beijing a number of strategic actions among which we highlight the following recommendation: “Promote the full and equal participation of girls in extracurricular activities such as sports, drama and cultural events … ” (Platform for Action, A / CONF.177 / 20 / Rev.1, paragraph 280). Being consistent with the above, we should plan to renew the offer of recreational activities under the full participation of all students, including girls; and at the same time, it is appropriate to ensure the practice of sports being on the one hand educational themselves; and on the other, fostering social cohesion including fair play criteria.

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When we think of the concept of fair play we can associate it to how to “play” a game. In this case the concept would be relatively easy to implement, because it is “only” a matter of following the norms respectfully, obey the referee’s decisions without questioning, and not to provoke the opponent or the audience. If we dig deeper again, we can enter the world of respect, justice, tolerance, empathy, not only in the context of sportive competition, but at the social level in general, in the relationship between equals, and the attitude towards authority. Back in the 80s, the FIFA introduced a simple code of conduct included in its campaign “My Game is Fair Play”, starting the path that made the term Fair Play fashionable. Perhaps the question then is, if the issue of Fair Play relates only to professional sport, or if it can transcend to the social sphere to shed light on issues affecting children and adolescents nowadays. If we understand Fair Play as a way to introduce values such as respect or tolerance in the behaviors of children and adolescents related to sport, it seems logical that the school context is best suited for the assimilation of these values. But considering that the school is not the main source for the transmission of values – family is -, and being aware of the appalling scenes starring both professional players, and parents in schools with specific reference to soccer games – contradicting the praised codes of conduct established by the FIFA, free from immediate consequences – we can understand the resulting antisocial attitudes.

The challenge would consist on finding ways to promote an educational school sport, focusing on the integral development of the students, from an objective of social cohesion and “convivencia” (living together in harmony). A concrete proposal that in addition to strengthening the foregoing, encourages girls to practice sports from age 12, underlining on everything that has been established so far, is Volleyball.

In essence, Volleyball can be viewed as optimal from the educational point of view, since its characteristics encourage team play, therefore, lacking individualisms. Moreover, being a sport with no physical contact, avoids potential triggers of violent behavior towards the opponents, encouraging parallel self-control and balance. Teams’ spaces are perfectly defined, even penalizing the “invasion” of the opposite field, which helps developing respect for personal space. Even a defiant look through the net that separates the fields can be penalized, stressing that respect for “the other”. Each player rotates through all positions, which in addition to stress the importance of team play, makes them aware of the importance of all tasks carried out in the different positions. The hierarchy is also respected as only the captain can go to the referee to express disagreements, promoting self-control again. Referees may declare null points if they are unsure of a decision (a matter that causes confrontations in other sports). Always, though one point is lost, positive reinforcement is searched midfield to resume next point. It is a sport with indoor and outdoor (Beach) modalities, that promotes coexistence and social cohesion, since it is practiced by boys and girls together, in mixed teams or not, but with possibilities outweighing the practice of other sports. They may be teams of 2 to 6 guys against 2, to 6 girls; mixed boys and girls in both teams, or against all boys or all girls … in short, a combination of multiple variables that make this sport seriously worth considering to be promoted among our young people.

Practicing Volley in schools and from this approach, we can develop interpersonal relationships and human values, respect and empathy, or cooperative teamwork built from fair play. All this generates group dynamics through an educational development based upon “convivencia” (living together in harmony), which promotes social cohesion and in consequence, the integral development of individuals.

Author: Dr. Gonzalo Torquemada

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