Prezi on Mindfulness and Flow in PE

by tobysumerfield on April 9, 2014

Below is a link to a presentation I will be making tonight at my first ever Teach Meet here in Shanghai. Some PE teachers from our SSSA (Shanghai Schools Sports Association) are getting together for food, drinks and some professional development. It’s the first ever meeting of its kind and my first time presenting on Mindfulness in PE. Amongst the titles for tonights presentations are: Twitter for Tw@ts, Success in Phys. Ed Departments and Mindfulness & Flow in PE (mine).

Should be an interesting night, wish us luck and here is the Prezi I will be making tonight:


Watching Thoughts

by tobysumerfield on April 3, 2014

I feel I’ve made some small but significant breakthroughs recently with my approach to mindfulness and becoming a more mindful PE teacher. I wanted to share the factors that lead to this progress here and explain how the breakthrough has enabled me to be more ‘present’ in PE lessons. A large part of this improvement has been my increased ability to ‘watch my thoughts.’ The word ‘watch’ in this sense means  ’feel’ or ‘internally focus upon’. The following three factors have contributed to these mini-breakthroughs:

1. Watching urges: There have been times when I have felt the urge to give negative feedback to a student, discipline certain behaviour or change tack in a lesson but rather than following through on these urges I have tried to simply watch them, feel the rise and fall of the urge until it disappears from my thought process completely. This has taught me that I am not completely attached my urges, that I don’t necessarily have to act on every one of them in my lessons, this in turn has helped me change some bad habits or negativity that has crept into my teaching during this semester.

2. Watching ideals: I have felt an increased connection to my pupils when I carefully ‘watch’ my ideals and expectations. I have many thoughts about how my teaching day will go, how I want to be treated by other teachers or pupils, how I want the individual lessons to go, when these ideals are not met I often get discouraged or feel frustrated with things out of my control. Instead of allowing these feelings to manifest themselves I have tried with reasonable success to simply let go of these ideals and let things flow rather than suffering because of them. I guess this comes down to watching or maybe holding on to my expectations of others.

3. Watching feelings of discomfort. When I have come across new ideas or exciting teaching practices I have tried to incorporate them in lessons, often with success but sometimes teaching topics outside my comfort zone or trying new ideas out in class has backfired. Previously, I have often gotten frustrated and wallowed in this discomfort obviously transferring this negativity onto my pupils. However, allowing myself to ‘watch’ these feelings of discomfort and frustrations and simply accept them for what they are, has enabled me to break bad teaching habits, enabled a more growth-focused mindset to flourish and enabled me to yes, feel the discomfort, but allow myself not to get hung up on it and move positively onwards during a lesson.

I’ve seen improvements in the flow of my lessons, the positivity I’ve brought to the lesson and the reactions from my pupils.

These are small breakthroughs I have felt recently, but significant in the fact that they make me a more reflective and growth-focused teacher. Please do comment if any of the above resonates with you.

“Peace of mind is not the absence of conflict from life, but the ability to cope with it.” ~Unknown

Eat and Run and Satori

by tobysumerfield on February 25, 2014

After enjoying reading ‘Born to Run’ by Chris McDougall, I’m currently reading ‘Eat & Run’ by the ultramarathon runner, Scott Jurek. It’s an inspriational read for anyone, even for a non-runner like myself and it has opened my eyes in many ways about the journey these athletes experience everytime they enter these mega-distance events.

I enjoyed reading and wanted to share a section, with the author talking about finding ‘flow’ during a race. He calls it ‘satori’:

“When I’ve been lucky enough to feel it, the sensation is one of effortlessness. It occurs when the intensity of the race, the pressure to win, the pain, build to a level that’s nearly unbearable. Then something opens up inside me. I find the part of me that is bigger than the pain. 

Satori can be saught, but it cannot be held. A few strides after an epic feeling of bliss…I’ll start worrying about the person I’m chasing down is feeling. I can’t beat those feelings or desires, but I know they’re not what really matters. What matters is the place of effortlessness, of selflessness…it’s only when I get to a place where all my physical and psychological warning lights are flashing red, and then run beyond it, that I hit the sweet spot. “

Go with the Flow: Exploring the Potential of a Video Capture iPad Application as a Tool to Develop Pupils’ Understanding of Mindfulness in Swimming.

by tobysumerfield on February 19, 2014

In a recent PE Unit on learning to swim mindfully, I provided an opportunity for my pupils to enhance their awareness of their own and others’ movements on a moment to moment basis through the use of the iPad’s Coach’s Eye Application.

Alongside the learning intentions I wanted to examine how effective the use of an iPad video capture application, such as Coach’s Eye was, in helping pupils develop their mindfulness in swimming.  I wondered to what extent the technology was an engaging, effective tool, in the development of the pupil’s understanding and how effective was the use of this technology in this particular PE class?

Choosing to study mindfulness through a sequence of swimming lessons offered me an alternative way to accepted motor learning theory in P.E. While simultaneously, being a very personal, thought-provoking, calming and reflective practice for pupils, mindfulness in PE is fantastic to teach. PE and PE teachers often socialize children to want to win at almost any cost and to feel badly if they lose, placing the focus on competitiveness and winning, rather than enjoyment, development and reflection and more mindful actions.

Mindfulness is linked to present-moment focus, which is the essence of ‘flow’ (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999; Ravizza, 2002). Kee and Wang (2008) suggested that athletes who tend to be more mindful are also more likely to experience a ‘flow’ state. In my PE classes however, I often find myself using a performance view of understanding that could be viewed as problematic, in many conventional educational settings I have witnessed, pupils rarely undertake performances resonant with the teachers’ goals of instruction. This is something I’m working on as a PE teacher.

Jackson and Csikszentmihalyi (1999) presented nine characteristics, each representing a dimension of ‘flow’ experiences which I then adapted for a more structured look into mindful experiences amongst swimmers in my class. These characteristics are presented in table 1.1, alongside examples of support, the iPad application Coach’s Eye, could make, in developing my pupil’s understanding of mindfulness in swimming.

Table 1.1 Mindful Experiences and iPad video application support

Mindful Experience

Brief Description

iPad video capture application support examples (Coach’s Eye)

1. Challenge/Skill Balance A feeling of balance between the demands of the situation and personal skills Instant visual analysis of the skills being performed
2. Maximum concentration on the task at hand A feeling of being very focused Seeing oneself on video during periods of focus
3. Merging of action and awareness A feeling of automaticity about one’s actions Reviewing actions on camera, analysing specific details
4. Clarity A feeling of certainty about what one is doing Seeing oneself on video during periods of clarity
5. Awareness of change Immediate and clear feedback on what has changed is received Immediate visual feedback which can be continuously played back or compared to previous attempts
6. Sense of total control A feeling of control that happens without conscious effort Visually analysing oneself during periods of control e.g., how do I look in control?
7. Time transformation Time can be seen more slowly or quickly, or a lack of awareness of the passing of time Instant slow-motion replay of skills being performed
8. Loss of self-consciousness The person is not concerned by his or her self-judgment or by the judgment of others Visual feedback on how one looks in the water
9. Awareness of sensations A feeling of heightened sensitivity towards changes inside and outside the body Visual feedback on specific details during the swim

I devised a simple rubric to investigate which of the characteristics above were supported by the technology over time (four week unit). In adapting the above list of mindful characteristics and cross referencing them against the technology’s impact on such characteristics, I could gain a clearer picture on the extent to which the technology played a part.

Data was collected in every lesson, using the technology influence rubric which was compiled from teacher observations and short pupil interviews. These methods are common practice during my swimming lessons as we often reflect during units. Each week the pupils practiced a different stroke and the topic of mindfulness was expanded upon each week. All pupils participating in the research had limited or no prior lessons on mindfulness but had four years experience in swimming and all were in the higher ‘Dolphin’ group of swimmers I teach. The pupils had used iPads before in previous lessons and at home but none had used the application Coach’s Eye before. Interviews were taken immediately following each forty minute lesson where the pupils were asked open and closed questions around the mindful characteristics above.

The results showed some dimensions occurred more frequently than others. Maximum concentration occurred ten times in four weeks (e.g., “I focused on what I was swimming like all the way down”) and awareness of sensations occurred sixteen times during the four weeks (e.g., “It was like a rocket, the water rushed passed my face, I felt it and I heard it”). The characteristics the iPad app, Coach’s Eye, seemed to facilitate more frequently were the merging of action and awareness (e.g., “seeing myself swimming on here helped me understand what I look like and how I was swimming”) and clarity (e.g., “the video helped me see the parts of my stroke, I can see my hands and my kick and the water on them”) which resonated with Key and Wangs’ findings (2008). More surprisingly perhaps was also the facilitation the technology made on the awareness of sensations for the pupils (characteristic number 9). This stemmed from them being able to instantly replay themselves swimming and reliving the sensations they felt at particular moments (e.g., “right there I felt I was cutting through with my hand, there I felt slowing down in legs and arms”). The sharing of their sensations with their peers increased as their knowledge of mindfulness increased and the lesson sequence progressed. From the results I could see a clear correlation emerging between the number of mindful characteristics being experienced and continued use of Coach’s Eye.

Through the observations and pupil interviews, a number of themes began to appear. The first was the socialisation that Coach’s Eye facilitated. The app allowed pupils to replay particular mindful moments while they were swimming, alongside their peers.  While examining these moments, discussions on mindfulness would ignite and reflection would occur. This resonates with Perkins and Unger’s (1999) theory of teaching and learning for understanding (TfU). TfU provides a useful framework to study the effects of video analysis on pupil understanding of mindfulness, as Perkins and Unger, (1999, pp.101) state: ‘knowledge does not come into its own until the learner can deploy it with understanding’. In this study the pupils in week 2 onwards perceived the value of thinking deeply about the stroke as they performed it. Reflection in action and a deeper connection between mind and body seemed to have been made. In one such observation a pupil suggested she began reflecting on her thoughts as her finger entered the water: “I wanted to make sure it was my pinkie first so I was thinking about twisting my wrist right there (pointing to the screen)”. Conversely, not all reflections upon mindfulness were constructive, as pupils often played up for the camera, embellished feelings or simply put on a show when being interviewed with a tape recorder. The Hawthorn Effect (Landsberger, 1958) on many occasions may have skewed the data but one unpredicted outcome of this case study. On the other hand, the use of Coach’s Eye seemed to excite the pupils and they enjoyed the experience immensely. This brought a positive feel around the pool and as the lesson sequence continued to scaffold mindfulness, the pupils began to gain confidence in using the application and got more creative with the technology, the third observable theme to emerge during the lessons.

From the rubric results it was clear that Coach’s Eye encouraged the development of visual and conceptual connections. Furthermore, using a visual tool rather than verbal instruction or written tool for example, seemed to give the pupils a view of themselves performing which many of them had not witnessed before. The topic of mindfulness was often secondary to this correlation as the pupils were frequently sidetracked becoming fascinated by their performance, technique, look and speed in the water. (e.g., “I look fast with my arms like that, I felt fast that time anyway”). This took the focus away from mindfulness and allowed the objectives of the lessons to be overlooked on occasion. In these instances perhaps Coach’s Eye was detrimental to the understanding of mindfulness and too much assistance or interference surrounded the pupils and clouded their ability to be fully present.

If I were to revisit this unit on mindfulness I would use tools such as video capture technology to aid understanding however, I would perhaps spend longer introducing the topic and integrating more mindful practices into the lessons, short silent meditation for example. I would attempt to scaffold the topic more carefully and perhaps take one or two introductory lessons to set the scene and introduce the technology then allow the pupils to guide their own discovery. I would choose an older age group to tackle such a subject as 10-11 year olds are perhaps not as cognitively advanced to fully process such a topic. I am encouraged by the results of this exploratory study however and through the integration of P.E. and ICT I can further explore how I can take my subject cross-curriculum and as a teacher, reflect on innovation, philosophy and consciousness in my pedagogy and develop my own understanding. As Barnes (1969, pp.4) concludes:

  “at the centre of working on understanding is the idea of ‘trying out’ new ways of thinking and understanding some aspect of the world: this trying out enables us to see how far a new idea will take us, what it will or will not explain, where it contradicts our other beliefs, and where it opens up new possibilities”.

For a full reference list please let me know. I hope you found something of value in my exploration/investigation. My full paper on this case study was completed for my PGCEi course through Nottingham University, UK.

Chariots and Parachutes

by tobysumerfield on January 23, 2014

“If students can learn to be “fully-present,” they can increase the quality
of their learning performance by being more focused, and become
better able to deal with stressful situations” (Langer, 1993).

An activity using parachutes and a horse and chariot resistance game helped my pupils explore mindful running, in my class this week. The intention of the class was to explore what being present means and how we can apply this in running. My goal is to enable my pupils to further engage their sensitivity to the experience of moving. The first step was to explore how the pupils feel when they run.

Mindful Running - Horse and Chariot (the pupil behind is holding a skipping rope around the waist of the pupil in front)

 The students were introduced to the ‘feel’ of running by discussing how it felt to be fast and slow. We probed questions like:

How does your body feel when you run fast/slow?

When you feel the wind, what does it feel like?

What do you think about as you run?

When you run at different speeds do you feel different things on different parts of your body?

We used some resistance parachutes to highlight the wind factor and the speed variable.

Parachutes for resistance training

What I’d like to do later in this unit is to explore alongside my pupils, how being mindful when we do any task is a great tool to have. When we are aware, fully conscious of our bodies as they exert themselves can help enhance our focus, to engage and ‘feel’ in the present moment and develop my pupils’ cognitive flexibility.

I’ll update on this work in progress.

4 Easy Mindful Techniques to use in your PE classes

by tobysumerfield on January 21, 2014

I have tried the following 4 techniques in my own PE classes with great results. Try them out and let me know how it went?

1. A good introduction to Mindfulness in PE is the body scan technique. It simply involves your pupils sitting comfortably and noticing how different body parts (eg: feet, legs, arms, hands, shoulder and head) all feel at rest. Allowing pupils to focus their minds like this reminds them to bring their attention back to these feelings when it drifts off to thinking about something else. There are different body scan scripts which you can download. The one I have is by Minding the Bedside, its 40 minutes long but can be shortened for your lessons/warm up/cool down.

2. Acceptance: Ask the pupils the next time they have a doubt in their mind or a negative thought, (e.g. ‘I can’t do this Butterfly technique’ or ‘the last time I played this shot it went wrong’) have them write it down or record it. When they have done this the pupils can practice accepting the thoughts for what they are. They can also label the different thoughts they have too. Pupils simply observe their thought and maybe describe it as a “worry thought.” By “putting it in its place” they can then focus on the task or movement in hand. Instead of attempting to change the thoughts of your pupils/athlete, a teacher can emphasize the changing awareness of and relationship to their thoughts.

3. Gratitude sessions: Ask your pupils in every class what are they grateful for? Include things about yourself. If you failed at something, what about that failure are you grateful for? What imperfections have you accepted about yourself and are you grateful for them? How about your classmates? In sports and PE how are we able to do the things we can do? I had a 30 minute gratitude session on an outward bound camp with my pupils. It was only supposed to be a summary and a closing remark activity but it lasted over 30 mins as the acceptance and thanks began to flow.

4. Separate yourself from your emotions with The Monster! When you or your pupils are feeling negative emotions, see them as a separate event, not a part of you or them, and watch them, accept them. I think Seth Godin calls it the ’Lizard Brain‘, Eckhart Tolle calls it your ego, Dr. Steve Peters calls it The Chimp, remove their power over you and your pupils by thinking of them as passing objects. I have tried it with my younger students using THE MONSTER: Imagine yourselves in a stalemate tug-of-war battle with a huge monster, which metaphorically illustrates the continued struggle against (attempts to control) The Monster (our unwanted experiences/emotions) versus a more successful strategy of dropping the rope altogether (accepting our experiences/emotions) despite the fact The Monster remains! Of course you can actually have a Tug of War against a huge monster (the teacher) if you want to get really creative and hands-on!

Have a go, be mindful and let me know how it went.


by tobysumerfield on January 14, 2014

Thank you for your interest in mindful physical education. You’ve come to a place where we can share, discuss, collaborate, highlight, search and explore what mindfulness in phys ed. entails. On this blog I hope to explore questions such as: how can being a mindful practitioner of PE have an impact on the lives of your pupils? How can we become more mindful educators? What is ‘flow’ and how can it be achieved during phys ed. lessons? What lessons lend themselves to teaching mindfulness and allow flow to occur more frequently?

A simple goal I have as a teacher is to engage pupils in moving to learn and learning to move. Cognitive, physical and emotional engagement in every single one of my lessons is a lofty goal but through this blog I hope to understand how to be a more engaging teacher, leader, educator and father. I want to maximise my growth mindset, take risks, stretch myself as a practitioner, embrace challenges, find inspiration in other’s success, learn from mistakes, achieve and evolve. Using mindfulness and flow as vehicles for growth I hope to find myself alongside my pupils, enhancing our engagement and fulfilment in our sporting endeavours.

If any of the above strikes a chord, welcome along for the ride.