Sometimes, preventative medicine is the best medicine.
Case in point: One day before the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization opens its seventh international convention against doping in sport, UNESCO will host a pre-conference forum on values-based education.
Both events, which take place next week in Paris, coincide with the launch of a “Sport Values in Every Classroom” toolkit for teachers that aspires to instill qualities of fairness, teamwork, discipline, inclusion, perseverance and respect in children.
If successful, UNESCO leaders expect that effort will help to dissuade athletes from thinking it’s OK to take performance-enhancing drugs to score victory at any cost.
And who better to moderate that Oct. 29 discussion than Paul Wright, an NIU Presidential Engagement Professor and global expert in the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) model through sport.
“There really is a strong and solid connection,” says Wright, the EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education.
“Fundamentally, when someone decides to cheat – when someone decides to take an unfair advantage – that’s an ethical issue,” he says. “The true worth of competition, and not selling out everything to get a win, is about values and integrity, respecting competition and being able to appreciate what competition is really for.”
Young athletes who play under the tutelage of sports coaches who teach on “ethically shaky ground” can come to believe that “winning is the most important thing,” Wright says, and that “the ends justify the means.”
Poor choices, such as elbowing an opponent “when the referee’s not looking, and I know I can get away with it,” can escalate to, “Why not take a these banned substances if I can do it in a way that tests won’t catch it?”
Wright’s experience shows that athletes who have a strong sense of personal and social responsibility are less likely to make decisions like those, he says, and UNESCO agrees.
“UNESCO is about building a foundation,” he says, “not just policing people who might be breaking the rules and the laws, but really trying to reinforce the fundamental morals and character of sport and making those people less likely to go down that road to doping.”
Members of the prestigious panel include Detlef Dumon, executive director of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education; Amanda Hudson, executive director of the World Anti-Doping Agency; Daniel Koszegi, head of operations for the International Fair Play Committee; and representatives from the International Paralympic Committee and the Olympic Foundation for Cultural Heritage.
Around 350 people are expected to engage in the conversation in the room at UNESCO headquarters with many more taking part via online streaming.
Wright, who takes seriously his NIU-recognized mission to engage with communities near DeKalb and around the world, welcomes the chance to bring his message to “policymakers, decision makers and leaders of organizations and nations.”
Some will find his advocacy eye-opening, he says, while others might find it “validates the work they’re already doing and encourages them to continue down that path.”
“Having their ears and their attention for a while is really a great opportunity to stimulate their thinking. I feel pretty confident that if someone gives me a microphone and a few minutes, I can make my argument pretty convincingly,” Wright says.
“I’m honored to be a part of this, and I’m excited for the interactions before and after to do some networking,” he adds. “At conferences like this, I always find that the in-between spaces – the networking – offers the most rich and beneficial experiences, and it might lead to other opportunities to collaborate, to consult or to learn about other approaches that support our work.”
He is especially eager to hear reports of preliminary testing of the UNESCO toolkit, which was piloted with teachers who were trained in the project, asked to implement it in their schools and then solicited for feedback.
“I’m genuinely excited to meet some of the teachers who have been using the toolkit to find out more about their practical application of it,” Wright says. “A big priority for me, in all the research I do, is that it’s practical – that it can be put to work for benefit of kids and for people who work with kids. From policy to practice, my goal is to somehow influence what trickles down to kids and gives them better lives through sport.”
TPSR, and now the UNESCO toolkit that integrates the model, accomplishes that.
“One of the things I’ve always believed in with the TPSR model is that it really doesn’t need to be tied to sport, and what UNESCO has done is to capture something that is essential in this approach: getting kids to think about positive values in an experiential way,” he says.
“You can accomplish that on a basketball court, but you can also do it with a cooperative learning challenge in a classroom. A good teacher can do this with math or science content by taking the pedagogy of TPSR and using it school-wide,” he adds. “We’ve already demonstrated through our research that this can transfer, and what UNESCO has done is to run with that.”