The post below is an abbreviated version of a story that originally appeared in the spring edition of UNCG Research Magazine. To read the full story and view additional images, click here.
As a young education professor in the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. Tom Martinek was interested in the impact of teacher expectations on students – the Pygmalion effect. He was preparing future PE teachers and working to understand how things like “learned helplessness” might affect students.
“That research was a stepping stone for me to begin to try things out, to take that research and try to apply it to programs in the community,” says Martinek, now a professor of kinesiology.
His early work helped at-risk kids through after-school programs that involved physical activity. They were mostly short-term efforts that ran for a year or two and provided Martinek with fodder for journal articles.
But Martinek wanted to do more. And he thought a framework called Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility through Physical Activity, or TPSR, was the key. The framework sees sports and physical activity as a way to teach children important skills and values – self-control, respect for each other, trying your best, setting personal goals and helping others.
Martinek’s opportunity came when the principal of Greensboro’s Hampton Elementary School approached him in 1991 for help.
“She thought the students were really vulnerable to dropout and different kinds of risk behaviors later on,” Martinek says. “She also knew that a lot of these kids didn’t have much to do after school.”
Most of the kids who attended Hampton lived in a nearby public housing community. With a little funding from an NC State University grant program, Martinek began bussing 24 third, fourth and fifth graders to UNC Greensboro twice a week after school.
It was the birth of Project Effort, a program that still operates more than 25 years later and has become a national model for using sports to help kids who are at risk to develop critical life skills.
Martinek is at the forefront of a growing movement of scholars and practitioners who see sports as an underused method to build stronger societies and help individuals be more resilient.
A typical Project Effort after-school session includes reviewing goals, physical activities in small groups, and then discussion and reflection on their activities.
Santos Flores, a second-year PhD kinesiology student working with Martinek, says youth sports in America often focus narrowly on skill development, reducing the potential positive impact.
“Elite performance deprioritizes life skill development,” he says. “We’re missing a major opportunity to develop youth and sports.”
Thanks in part to Martinek’s leadership in the field and the success of Project Effort, UNCG will host the 2018 Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) Alliance Conference this week on campus.
To learn more about the national conference, click here.
Story by Mark Tosczak
Photography by Mike Dickens, Office of Research and Engagement