Pedagogy of the sport. Application of Freirean principles

La pedagogía del deporte. Aplicación de los principios de Paulo Freire


Possui Licenciatura Plena em Educação Física pela Universidade

Regional de Blumenau. Pós-Graduação/Especialização em treinamento

desportivo, Voleibol. Doutorado em Liderança e Administração Educacional

pela University of Texas at El Paso. Trabalhou nos EUA e Arábia Saudita

com esporte e atualmente é professor titular do Centro Universitário

Leonardo da Vinci, UNIASSELVI nas áreas de educação física e esportes

Antonio José Müller








          Paulo Freire is one of the most important educators in the world. His ideas are very useful and still relevant in any educational context. However, it is very difficult to find Freire’s opinions transported to the reality of sports, regarding people’s development and student’s increasing the interest in school by using the benefits of sports. This article has the objective to discuss the connection between sports and Paulo Freire´s theories. Under this perspective pretend to establish new possibilities to help teachers and coaches for a more interesting sport practices.

          Keywords: Sports. Education. Freirean theories.


EFDeportes.com, Revista Digital. Buenos Aires, Año 16, Nº 162, Noviembre de 2011. http://www.efdeportes.com/

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1.     Introduction

    Sport is a popular expression of both individual feelings and people’s culture in a specific region, ethnicity, or religion. Arts and sports in general have been converted into a vehicle for natural expression of society. Freire (2000) said that people have an inherent talent which can be expressed in many forms as well as in artistic and sportive forms. Therefore, anyone can be an artist or athlete, perhaps with just different degrees of ability.

    Based on this principle and with a correct technique, passive spectators can become actors and players. In this way, Freire’s philosophy of education is put into practice with an immense impact. This transition from spectators to “players” can improve learning and collective empowerment. Educators can explore this technique and transform theory in action because of the social relevance and adaptability of sport, and arts, and by exploring issues ranging from racism, sexism, and social exclusion. As a result, sports and arts reflect self or collective consciousness and people become part of a cultural context by empowering their vocations.

    Freire introduced the anthropological concept of culture that distinguishes between nature and culture. He believed that discussing this distinction would lead illiterate people to discover that they are makers of culture as much as literate people are. He used to draw pictures to stimulate discussion. People could relate from their background and realize that they could be part of that picture. Sport could be a picture to stimulate education through adding the physical action or expression promoted by sport.

    School must be connected to students’ local culture in order to develop a universal culture. Freire (1994) explains, when children get to school, they may bring with them an understanding of their world in many different dimensions. Their origins and their culture are the beginning of the knowledge they get from the world as time goes by.

    According to Freire (1970), people are oppressed due to their lack of knowledge. He proposes that education should be a means of freedom, and through education one may develop the conscientização (consciousness with action). This is an ongoing process by which a learner moves toward a critical consciousness process as the spirit of liberatory education, making sense of the world in a critical context.

    Conscientização means breaking through prevailing mythologies to reach new levels of awareness, in particular, awareness of oppression, being an "object" in a world where only "subjects" have power. The process of conscientização involves identifying contradictions in experience through dialogue and becoming a "subject" with other oppressed subjects, becoming part of the process of changing the world (Instituto Paulo Freire, 2004).

    Another connection between education and sport would be possible through the Paulo Freire Method for adults’ literacy. According to this method, illiterate people make use of words that are related to their daily lives to learn how to read and write and especially, to be able to be engaged in political issues under a critical perception. These words, which are called generators, can be linked to sport and have the same objective of teaching the alphabet to children. Freire (1970) comments, the pedagogy of the oppressed, as a humanist and liberator pedagogy, is no longer the oppressed pedagogy, but is transformed into pedagogy of the men in a permanent process of liberation. Sports promote this liberation, where both children and adults become free through their action and expression by making use of techniques and body language. The rules of a specific sport narrow this freedom. However, they do not limit the power of creativity, style and decision-making that sport supplies. Freire defines (1970) “Freedom to create and construct, to admire and adventure.”

    These programs, although no longer based on principles put forward by Freire in the previous decade, nonetheless are frequently more effective in reaching and retaining hard-core illiterate adults. They are closer to the problems of the neighborhood, they less resemble the more formal schools with which previous "failure" has been identified, and they evidence care and respect for their neighbors which leads to mutual trust and perseverance.

    For sport to have a connection with schools and society, it must be within a vast universe. As the regional comes from the local, the national comes from the regional, and the continental from national. In the same way, the worldly comes from the continental as the dimensions of an individual’s contextual reality to recognize the interaction and achieve a clearer perception of the whole (Freire, 1970). Therefore, it is wrong to stay “stuck” to the local because we may lose a more global vision. This cannot be obtained only through technical training, which is characterized by sports, but according to the understanding of our context as historical, political, social and cultural beings (Freire, 1994).

2.     Pedagogy of Desire

    School should promote the knowledge related to the culture and desire of its students and thus, become a pleasant place. According to Lacan, (cited by Rossatto, 2001), the pedagogy of desire focuses on the relationship between the symbolic (curriculum) and the real (students’ world). Children express great interest in playing, so the implemented curriculum is designed around outdoor field trips (sports).

    Through the entertainment provided by sports, there can be evolution in their learning. If they enjoy the subject, they will at least theoretically be learning as well as having an open mind for new knowledge. Freire (1998) suggests, “What students discover by themselves is usually retained for life.”

    Sports are fun, enjoyable and emotional. Their didactics must be constructive in education. Teachers have to attune themselves to the joy, fun, pain, humor and metaphor of their students. In its denial of pleasure, schools promote a regime of discipline and devotion to the transference of play into labor. One can discover a lot about students’ classroom behavior by observing and investigating playground socialization, sports participation, or after-school activities. The understanding of the use of pleasure in the social construction of individuals, our psychological insight into the personality formation, learning styles and motivational dynamics of young people will be deep at best (Kincheloe, Slattery, and Steinberg, 2000).

    One of the applications of this idea is the respect by the kinderculture approach to the popular culture. According to Kincheloe et al., (2000) “Kinderculture and popular culture exert specific influences, affecting maps that emerge in the social context in which children encounter these cultural expressions.” In a phenomenological perspective we, as teacher or coaches, must understand the students’ cultural reality to connect it to curriculum in order to produce a new positive meaning and knowledge in the classroom, gym, and sports field. Adults must understand the connection between sports and students’ culture, perception, and desire, which can promote the schools’ transformation. The insights into the hidden cultural rules of the school can be surprising and even profound, and the acting on an accepting of such cultural dynamics can transform schools (Kincheloe, et al., 2000).

    Curriculum has the potential to transform students’ reality. Curriculum theorizing is critical to the development of programs, which are receptive to social and cultural changes in society. Sport in school become part of the required curriculum via physical education classes, and of course, sports are major extracurricular activities (Curry & Jiobu, 1984).

    Schools, through physical education classes and interschool sports programs, serve as significant socializing agents for youth people. During late childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, it is peers, rather than the family, who serve as the most powerful socializing agents for sport involvement (Seefeldt & Vogel, 1986).

3.     Projeto Axé: Sport for Street Children

    One of the very important connections between culture and popular education has been used in Salvador, Bahia. Projeto Axé, a nonprofit organization, takes credit for removing thousands of children from the streets through emancipatory education. The project reinvents curriculum to incorporate a variety of activities closely related to the customs and traditions of local life and culture (Rossatto, 2001). One may include a good example of the sport-education relation, where the Capoeira (Brazilian martial art which combine music and rhythms) was incorporated into the school curriculum. Freire got the idea from the popular culture and used it as a means to stimulate children to study. In other terms, he observed kids playing Capoeira in the streets instead of being at school. Then, he suggested introducing this practice inside the schools, so that the kids could play within their regular classroom schedule.

    It should be relevant to point out that those kids were street kids, and, therefore, did not attend schools. Through his project Freire could bring them back to school. His philosophy of self-reliance that involves the cultivation of ethics through aesthetic, I can translate in sport, with the purpose of giving back to the children their dignity and equipping them with tools they need to positively transform their lives. Axé thus focuses on what the children know and enjoy, music, dance, and sports, rather than assuming what they need (Morin, 2000). This kind of program must be adopted inside of public schools in Brazil.

    It is obvious that by this program participants are re-integrated into society as functional and dignified citizens. The program content is based on self-motivation, creativity, critical thinking, and dialogue about real issues associated with life on the streets. The children establish their learning pace as they gain knowledge through collective engagement activities, which incorporate percussion, dance, art, culture, entertainment, and literacy classes. This kind of schooling has enormous importance for children. They learn to transform their personal life stories into an evolving educational experience that contains new life possibilities. This positive educational experience exposes issues related to community organization, and provides opportunities for upward mobility to those most in need (Rossatto, 2001).

    The main problem is that although sports can promote culture, we cannot take full advantage of this quality. Our focus is more related to entertainment and health, than it is related to its academic importance. Thus, we do not notice and explore the sports universe in an adequate way.

    When Freire’s principles are associated with regional sports, as well as arts and folklore, they have a great potential to improve the development of students’ learning ability. Moreover, they can promote and foment interest in education in unmotivated communities, where students do not perceive the importance and relevance of school because it represents a different world to the reality they live day-to-day. Incorporating these updated pedagogic techniques, we may be able to stimulate and reach out to these students. This cause and effect relationship can be correlated to the regional characteristics, which evolve from social and religious values and beliefs. The cause and effect result in the same manner as one is influenced by the music one listens to and in the sports in which one follows or participates.

4.     Interdisciplinary approach through sport

    Freire (1970) explains that human beings socialize through dialog. Through dialog people explain their ideas and awareness of their world. Sports promote socialization and, therefore, can promote consciousness. As well as in dialog, people can express their feelings and attitudes through sports. Sports are a thematic topic included in the students’ context. It also should be included in the curriculum through interdisciplinary studies, where each discipline explores the same topic but in a different area of interest

    As it was mentioned above, through the Paulo Freire Method, sports would be included in the same generator words category. However, it does not have a word, but a cultural generator characteristic to stimulate learning.

    For example, soccer can be used to explain historical, geographical, or economical aspects for students in Brazil, in geography, history, or math classes. Using a local culture and what students enjoy in their daily practices outside the school helps in the learning process inside the school.

    The interdisciplinary technique aims at relating sports to the other subjects. In each of them, one may say that the connection is very attractive, as stated below:

5.     Criticizing Freire

    Freire’s ideas and concepts are important and powerful; therefore, they generate controversies, critiques, and provocative viewpoints. His theories are helping to deconstruct the school as a reproduction of the status quo and helps promote social justice. As Dewey (1964) explains, schools today present tendencies that fortify social inequalities. Exactly for this reason, difficulties in schooling appear disconnected to Freire’s optimism and theoretical dreams that education is an element of transformation and teachers are cultural workers. His terms of student-centered instruction where a teacher learn and a learner teaches is losing power because of the accountability system based on test and the deficient teaching defeating his/her authority in classrooms.

    Freire’s philosophical background was based on Greek philosophers, Marxist social theory and the Christian model. It is very hard to understand Freire if readers did not suffer or are not suffering the oppression as he fought in Brazil in poor countries in Africa and Latin America. His theory of conscientização depends on some sort of transcendent view of reality of each individual coming to see what is real and authentic (Elias & Merriam, 1980). To understand the oppression we must be inside of it, not outside of it, therefore, oppressed people can find hope, liberation, and love in his words as the same as oppressors can find revolutionary ideas that can generate violence.

    Another critique is the fact that Freire created a vacuum in addressing his ideas of revolution specifically in terms of men and women, black and white, or to a particular society and economic context. As readers, we can understand social change and possibilities, but without identifying who is the oppressor we cannot promote revolution. If we know the enemy, we can better destroy him/her.

    Criticizing Freire is an exercise of my own conscientização. Perhaps to some degree, my plans and dreams are based on his revolutionary points. However, they are not manipulated by him. Most importantly, through Freire’s theories I deconstruct my own discriminatory and oppressive identity. I am now critical of my own existence, my identity, and my future.

6.     Critical Pedagogy and Sport

    Critical pedagogy is a way that education should provide an education for liberation since the critical-thinking or problem-solving process does not happen without critical learning or, again, critical pedagogy. Maybe critical pedagogy is a deconstruction of regular pedagogy in a critical theory. I can understand that critical pedagogy is a different methodology of conscientização Freire defines as where men and women use a critical form of thinking about their world and become part of a democratic world. But, again, how about sport? Freire calls on students to be active participants, to link awareness with practice (hooks, 1994). Critical pedagogy must emphasize wholeness, a union of mind, body, and spirit. Sport in correlation with critical pedagogy can be a very useful instrument to educate people. The idea is to understand how sport connected with critical pedagogy can be used to improve education.

    Many researchers have found that sport, when presented and organized properly, makes a significant contribution to the social and moral education of young people and is an effective way of producing benefits for both the individual and the society. Sport-education is used on regular basis in schools in different countries with the objective to provide integral and complete development through physical-cognitive connections. However, its connection with critical pedagogy is not very well recognized or explored by authors and teachers/coaches. Since there is a gap in actual literature, it is very hard to explain critical pedagogy related to sport.

    Decision-making is common in sports. Especially in team sports, students or athletes need to make decisions almost every second during the practice or game. For example, a volleyball hitter will have a successful attack if he/she reads the game situation. Depending on what kind of setting, opposite block position, his/her relation between the ball and his/her approach, etc., will define the player’s best decision. This decision-making process is a critical part of the game which coaches call tactical intelligence.

    Freire says education must be democratic, dialogical, anti-bias, emancipatory, and dialectical, must produce knowledge, and must promote conscientização. Let’s try to connect each one of these with sports:

7.     Conclusion

    Sports can be an instrument to promote conscientização and help people change their history in many alienated and oppressed societies. Sports can be an agent to transform society, since some successful athletes who came from deprived minorities can become role models of hope against oppression in their communities. The great challenge is to increase the opportunity for all young people to develop and enrich their lives through sport while in school. Teachers need to have a sound sociological understanding of how race, ethnicity and racism operate within society, school and in the curriculum. Critical pedagogy must be used to decrease discrimination and promote ethnic integration in society and issues of race and racism must be discussed in schools

    Sports can provide the connection between culture and a true democracy and can promote critical pedagogy in the form of an altruist activity. Sports can be used as a tool to transform schools and the world into what Freire dreamt about and all of us must seeking a world less ugly, more beautiful, less discriminatory, more democratic, less dehumanized, and more humane.


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