Sport Literacy

Sport is one of the required content forms in PE within an Australian curriculum HPE implementation. In many schools, sport constitutes the substantive content for most middle and secondary years PE programs, and so there is a clear need to frame sport in PE educationally. Using multi-literacy theory, I have used sport literacy as a conceptual framework for learning through, about and for sport in PE since the mid-2000's (Pill 2009). This framing is designed to improve the core learning experiences of all students in physical education through a direction to teachers of a more educationally valid and socially equitable sport teaching in PE. With sport literacy, I aim to progress the ambitious agenda of creating discussion about the place and purpose of sport as a substantive site of and for learning in PE by challenging the normative paradigm of 'textbook technique' PE teaching, particularly prevalent in middle and secondary school PE.

Upfront, I make clear that I refer to PE here as an educational process occurring within the school curriculum with the purpose of developing skills, knowledge, understanding and confidence in the use of these through engagement in physical activity, which serves as the medium for learning. Sports are organised competitive activities with codified rules to standardise competition and conditions so that participants understand the process, provisions and restrictions through which to achieve specified goals (Wuest & Bucher, 2006).

Why adopt sport literacy as a curriculum framing? To answer this question we need to accept that sport in PE has value as content with both academic potential and socio-cultural capital. We also need to be cognisant of the criticisms of the traditional normative curriculum structure and pedagogical emphasis of PE. This critical commentary lands on four connected elements: 1. the student experience of the enacted curriculum, 2. the curriculum design and 3. the pedagogy of the enacted curriculum, and 4. the status of the subject. Critical interpretations of the normative construction of PE games and sport curriculum suggesting surface learning for many students and outcomes that are largely inconsequential. For many students, experiences of PE are not always positive (Penney and Clarke 2005) as the dominant activities, values and behaviours marginalise them. Socio-cultural, personal and social learning became casualties of the narrow curriculum emphasis of many multi-activity curriculum structures especially where 'textbook technique' teaching of sport 'skills' is evident. 

In my work, I use Arnold's (1979) conceptual dimensions to frame sport literacy and expand the normative narrative of ability in PE as singular capacity centred on textbook technique reproduction in sport and sport-related games, and PE as a single-dimension subject centred on sport-specific motor skill development, to a broader appreciation of sport knowledge. Sport literacy is consistent with conceptualisations of literacy that educators encounter in other areas of the curriculum. As explained in the UNESCO Education for all global monitoring report (2006), literacy is more than reading and writing. It encompasses skills enabling access to knowledge and information and is a term increasingly referring to a competence allowing effective participation in relevant social activities. It is a functional concept acknowledging applied, practised and situated skills. These skills encompass:
  • ·         how we communicate in society;
  • ·         social practices and relationships, knowledge, language and culture;
  • ·         content knowledge and comprehension of the content;
  • ·         use of critical and creative thinking skills and/or processes;
  • ·         conveying information through various forms; and
  • ·         use of knowledge and skill to make connections within and between various contexts.

This includes the development of the functional ability to absorb, share, transform and create knowledge (Kickbusch, 2001). Adapting Mandigo et al.’s (2007) framing of the features of multi-literacy theory to sport informs us that:
·         Sport is an applied, practised and situated set of skills.
·         Sport is a body of knowledge with meaning that can be interpreted, understood and used creatively.
·         Sport forms an operational ‘text’ that can be communicated and read in various forms.
·         To become sports literate requires a learning process.

Physical education (and sport teaching in particular) is often viewed as a marginal subject of less importance than other more ‘academic’ school subjects. While many PE programs continue to emphasise mastery in sport skill, especially at the secondary school level, many students are unable to develop the expected competencies in the time provided by the units of work typical of the dominant multi-activity program design. Those students with pre-developed ability then prosper at the expense of less experienced, less 'skilled' students. In this scenario, PE becomes by default 'talent identification'.

This is an extract from a 2010 paper - Sport literacy: It is not just about learning to play sport via textbook techniques, available at 

To see what Sport Literacy can look like as a curriculum progression see Play with Purpose: Game Sense to Sport Literacy, available from 


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