Ideally, the formation of teams whereby one half of the class competes against the other half is a rare occurrence in children’s physical education classes. There might be instances, however, when it is developmentally appropriate to divide a class into two teams. There are several ways to do so that are relatively quick and do not damage a child’s self-esteem.
One of the easiest ways is to ask children to find a partner (don’t tell them you are about to organize them into teams). Ask one partner to stand on the blue line and face her partner who is standing on the red line. All children will be standing on two lines, facing one another. The children on the blue line compose one team, the ones on the red line the other team. Interestingly, this is one of the quickest and easiest ways to form teams of equal ability because very often in physical education classes children pick partners of similar ability.
Another quick way to form teams is to ask children to "count off." The ones are on one team; the twos are on the other. Or you can ask them to "count off in fours"-ones and threes, for example, on one team, twos and fours on the other.
Another way to form teams is to ask children with birthdays in the first six months of the year (January through June) to stand on one line; those with birthdays in July through December stand on the other line. This should come out reasonably close in numbers.
Have you ever watched a class of children respond to the question, "What game do you want to play today?" Invariably a few children respond quickly and loudly-"kickball" or "dodgeball" or "killerball." Especially to beginning teachers, it sounds as if the whole class is in agreement. In fact, the loud response is made by a few children-often the highly skilled, and they are forceful. Needless to say, those who really don’t want to play those games keep quiet.
Occasionally I encounter the view that competition for children is good for them. "They need to learn how to lose!" is the battle cry often emitted by the frustrated ex-athlete or wannabe superstar. There might be a grain of truth to the idea that children need to learn how to lose gracefully and with understanding, but I remain convinced that learning to cooperate with others is a far more important skill to learn than learning how to lose. An occasional loss might not be harmful to children. Losing every day, however, is certainly unpleasant, if not harmful. And if we’re not careful and sensitive, some children can easily be placed in situations in which virtually every physical education class is a losing experience.
When people confront me on my views of competition for children, I refer them to classic books by Tutko and Bruns, Winning Is Everything: And Other American Myths, and Joy and Sadness in Children’s Sports by Rainer Martens. I don’t know if they read them, but I hope they do because these books create a powerful and sensitive portrayal of the damage an overemphasis on competition can do to a child’s emerging self-concept.
This is an excerpt from Teaching Children Physical Education, Third Edition.