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Tim Pettus teaches students about compromise in Waterford's physical education class
Tim Pettus teaches Lower School students about compromise in PE.

“No Goal!”
“That hit the post and then went in!”
“That hit the post and bounced out!”

Welcome to an average day and a common conversation in a Lower School Physical Education class.

“Settle it in 10 seconds or less,” says Mr. Pettus.
“Compromise, give in, or do a Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

The health and brain benefits achieved during an active physical education class are important and should not be ignored. While the physical and mental benefits of PE are obvious, the social benefits of PE are often overlooked and forgotten; cooperation, communication, sportsmanship, and problem solving are taught on a daily basis.

One of the most important social skills I teach is compromise. On the first day of school, I teach my students that occasionally “giving in” or accepting the opinion of another, is a strength, not a weakness. Many of my lesson plans involve multiple balls and goals, multiple learning opportunities for students of all abilities levels, and the potential for multiple disagreements.

“I picked up the ball first and then you took it out of my hands!”
“No, I had it first.”
“Mr. Pettus, who do you think had it first?”
“This game has 12 balls and four goals. I did not see it,” says Mr. Pettus.  
"Remember the skills we have worked on and settle it quickly.”
“Ok, you can have the ball,” says one student.
“Thank you, that was very generous,” says Mr. Pettus. “The next time this happens, remember to alternate who gets the ball.”

While “giving in” (as we say in PE class) or “compromising” is option #1 when settling a disagreement, sometimes neither student is in the giving mood. At this point, we move to option #2, Rock, Paper, Scissors. Students learn to quickly and respectfully settle their disagreement and move along with the activity.  

When students struggle to "let it go" and forget about the incident, I jokingly warn them, “I am going to start singing Let It Go from Frozen if we keep talking about it.”  This usually lightens the mood and diverts the attention from the original argument, or "disagreement" as I prefer to say.

I also teach my students how to compromise. When one team believes a goal was scored, and the other team disagrees, a good compromise is to call “no goal,” and give the shooting team a penalty shot. Neither team gets the best outcome or the worst outcome.  Sometimes we call this a “do over” or “re-do.”

Many of the activities I teach require students to “self referee” (acting as a referee while playing the game). I prefer multiple, small-sided (less students per team) games over one large game.  Small-sided games give students of all ability levels greater opportunities to “touch” the ball, and most importantly, to learn and improve.

I am currently teaching Team Handball to Classes III, IV, and V.  I divide the class into four teams, make two different fields, and play two different, simultaneous games. We play a round robin format where all teams play three different games, against three different opponents.  This format has many positives, but there is one huge negative: it is hard to successfully referee two different games at the same time. Students must learn how to referee while they are playing the game. Respectfully settling a disagreement while sweating and breathing heavy is not easy.  Making an honest “call” that goes against your own team’s success can be an unpopular move with your teammates. Teaching students to always place honesty above winning in PE class is a daily challenge.

When I was in elementary school I played after school everyday with my friends. My family lived on a boarding school campus and we shared a backyard (“the quad”) with the other faculty children. We made up our own games, refereed the games, and settled our disagreements with little (if any) adult help.

Today, elementary age children are not playing after school in the neighborhood as often as they used to. Most after school activities are organized and officiated by an adult. When there is a problem, the adult often settles the problem. In many situations this a good thing, but it is important that we teach students the skills needed to respectfully settle a disagreement and don’t always jump in and settle it for them.

These important skills are not learned overnight.  They must be practiced, reinforced, and most importantly, modeled by adults. Children need to be reminded that compromise and occasionally “giving in” to some of your opponent’s opinion is a strength, not a weakness.

Athletics Lower School

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