College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

How Physical Education Can Counter Hazing

By Edson Chirowodza — June 19, 2018 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Editor’s Note: Edson Chirowodza, physical education teacher in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe and volunteer at Generations For Peace, shares how sports can help prevent bullying and hazing in school.

On an international level, physical education is facing an uphill battle to gain recognition of its importance (and the support that follows) in both primary and secondary school. The UK, US, and much of the western hemisphere is cutting funding to PE—a very dangerous trend, not only due to its impact on students, but also because of its potential impact on both society and its development.

Growing up, you probably experienced or witnessed bullying, cliques, exclusion, and—with ever-growing prominence—hazing in school. In Zimbabwe, where I was raised, hazing was a particularly big problem across the country, which I witnessed whether I was attending a school in the small mining town of Chirumanzu or in Zimbabwe’s seventh-largest city, Kwekwe. In my country, a majority of hazing comes from seniors believing that bullying students at lower levels is part of their rights, thus leading younger students to continue this vicious cycle when they reach their senior years.

As I grew up, I began to see how simple activities like sports, when approached correctly, have the power to minimize bullying, cliques, exclusion, and especially hazing. Although in many cultures students experience hazing largely surrounding sports activities, when they are approached with carefully designed guidelines and purposes, physical education and the sport-based activities used therein have the power not only to build endurance and physical fitness, but also to build peace both in schools and their surrounding communities.

Here are three ways in which I have used my role in physical education to counter hazing and instill life skills in students that draw them toward peace and away from divisive actions:

1. Acknowledge the Value of Both Teamwork and Each Team Member

In our families, communities, careers, and social lives, teamwork is a key to success. However, it is difficult to build in youth when they are divided along lines such as age or year in school, which for many students are aspects that play deeply into their identity, friendships, and outlooks.

A lesson that I learned early on in my career and from volunteering with a youth-focused peace-building organisation called Generations For Peace, is that teamwork is not just about the cohesive way in which a group of people accomplish a task. It is also largely about recognising the contributions of each individual team member as they use their unique skills, strengths, and abilities to push the greater team toward success.

Some simple strategies I have found useful in ensuring this recognition occurs include creating new teams every class—combining students of different (though similar) age groups, class level, and overall background. This can result in united teams focused more on working together to win a game than on evaluating the differences between them, minimising age-based hazing between students at all levels. It is also helpful to ensure that the scope of activities is broad, so that each student feels at one point or another that they are using their natural strengths to benefit a team.

When approached strategically, specially designed sport-based activities aim not only to increase physical ability, but also to encourage unity and build off the strengths of each team member, reminding them of the power of working together and seeking unity over division.

It might not be surprising to learn that when these outlooks are fostered in the controlled environment offered by physical education, they begin to spread beyond the time set aside for such classes and enter into the rest of the school, reducing rates of hazing and other forms of violence.

2. Increase Student Resilience and Self-Worth through a Broad Range of Activities

Physical education also has the power to leave a positive impact on students who have suffered from or struggled as victims of hazing. Being the victim of hazing can have negative psychological impacts on youth that carry through to adulthood, affecting confidence, self-worth, and perceived value to society. One of the few places where students have the opportunity to contribute consistently to team-building and team-centric activities is physical education.

What I have found most helpful in creating a sense of worth in each student is implementing a broad range of creative activities that play to a wide array of physical and mental strengths. Some students are more physically inclined than others, and even for those who are more skilled in sports, there is a wide variety of expertise: some have endurance while others have strength, some have incredible hand-eye coordination while others’ are more capable at running, which requires entirely different abilities. Still others feel they lack physical abilities altogether, yet have strength in terms of strategy and creativity.

While it would be difficult to find a single activity that allows each student to utilise their strongest natural abilities, by introducing a broad range of physical education activities, each student will be sure to feel that their abilities lend themselves to meaningful contributions to their teams, allowing those who have been victims of hazing to increase their resilience and rebuild their self-worth.

3. Encourage Effective Communication in High-Pressure Contexts

Communication is a pivotal step in understanding one another, and mutual understanding is a key part of the process that builds acceptance and peace. I have learned two significant lessons about communication in a sport-created safe space: that which occurs during activities, and that which happens surrounding them.

While we might not think of sports in primary or secondary school as a high-pressure environment, the students engaged in the activities do not feel the same. During activities, many reveal their competitiveness, leading to activities with higher stakes and more engaged teams and players. Through team-based games, I have found that students become far more communicative on the field than they might otherwise be off of it, and I have witnessed first-hand how this can build friendships or at least acceptance that transcends physical education and returns with students back to other classes. However, supplementing these aspects of communication with the safe space afforded by sports is what seems to directly impact campus conflicts like hazing most directly.

One of sport’s most underrated powers is its ability to provide a safe space in which young people have the opportunity to focus on the game rather than their differences. Physical education by nature provides a structured format in which safe spaces are built, giving teachers the time to not only oversee activities, but also to take advantage of the unique sense of unity brought about by them to address issues and challenges facing students in meaningful discussions leading into and following the activities.

Physical education might be facing an uphill battle, but with challenges such as hazing becoming more and more prominent in schools on an international scale, it is time to recognise and stand for the class that teaches important life skills and lessons outside the four walls of a traditional classroom. It could shape the future of our youth and by extension, our communities and world on the whole.

Connect with Edson, Generations for Peace, Heather, and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Image created on Pablo.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Classroom Strategies for Building Equity and Student Confidence
Shape equity, confidence, and success for your middle school students. Join the discussion and Q&A for proven strategies.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Disrupting PD Day in Schools with Continuous Professional Learning Experiences
Hear how this NC School District achieved district-wide change by shifting from traditional PD days to year-long professional learning cycles
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Want to Motivate Students? Give Them a Meaningful Taste of the Working World
Work-based learning experiences can help students understand why the classes they are taking are relevant to their future success.
7 min read
A nurse supervises a young student standing at the foot of a hospital bed chatting about the medical chart that she is holding.
E+/Getty + Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness A Lesson in Eggonomics: The Story of Soaring Prices and Industrious High Schoolers
California agriculture students are undercutting grocery store egg prices—and learning big lessons in the process.
4 min read
Cardboard egg cartons sit stacked on the shelf of a grocery store cooler case.
Eggs are displayed on store shelves at a grocery store. Egg prices surged in late 2022, giving agriculture students hands-on lessons in supply chain issues.
Ross D. Franklin/AP
College & Workforce Readiness Photo Essay PHOTOS: Cars, Canines, and Cosmetology—All in a Day's Work
EdWeek photographer Morgan Lieberman reflects on her day with Dean McGee, a 2023 Leaders To Learn From honoree.
2 min read
Students Fernando Castro and Eric Geye’s, part of the Auto Technology class, show Dean McGee the vehicle they are working on at the Regional Occupational Center on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in Bakersfield, Calif.
Dean McGee takes a look under a vehicle alongside students from the auto technology class at the Regional Occupational Center, in Bakersfield, Calif.
Morgan Lieberman for Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness Leader To Learn From Building Skills for Independent Lives: A Leader's Vision for Students With Disabilities
Dean McGee of Kern High School District in California draws on his personal experience to improve and expand career-technical education.
7 min read
Dean McGee pets Sydney while visiting the Veterinary Technology program at the Regional Occupation Center on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in Bakersfield, Calif.
Dean McGee, deputy superintendent of educational services and innovative programs in the Kern High School District, pets Sydney while visiting the veterinary technology program at the Regional Occupation Center in Bakersfield, Calif.
Morgan Lieberman for Education Week