Comfort Ankunda & Webster Tinashe Chakawata
Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University
The 2023 Swedish Association for Behavioral and Social Science Sports Research (SVEBI) conference took place in the vibrant, timeless, and culturally rich city of Gothenburg (Göteborg). The University of Gothenburg’s Department of Nutrition and Sports Science provided the setting for the three-day conference, which gathered an impressive number of attendees, including leading sport social scientists from Sweden, together with educators, students, and practitioners – and indeed alongside those also visitors from the Nordic countries, Europe and even Australia!
Providing a backdrop to the conference was the theme of “Inclusive and Sustainable Practices Within Sports Coaching, Training, Sport and Health as well as Physical Activity and Health”. The conference’s official opening ceremony took place on a chilly but sunny November morning, which set the scene for a brief reminiscence about the history of Sport Science in Gothenburg, highlighting the various milestones since the 1970s that led to Sport Science becoming a recognized discipline up until the creation of the Department of Nutrition and Sport Science in 2011, as we have it today. The presentation also told how sport pedagogical research started at the beginning of the 1970s, before a lot of groundwork was covered in lobbying to get Physical Education teaching, something which culminated in the University starting its own Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE), with backing from the government in 1993 – perhaps this was a sign of things to come as the PETE theme would provide a guiding thread throughout much of the conference.
Messages from keynote speakers
With the forms of delivery for the conference proceedings alternating between English and predominantly Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, most of the takeaways we managed to capture and comprehend were those conducted using the English language, however, the conference provided a one stop shop for learning the Scandinavian languages.
The first keynote speech was given by professor Åse Strandbu from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (NIH). Her presentation which was in Norwegian explored various issues within Youth and Sport. The main question was about who participates in sports and why, specifically whether gender, social class, and minority background have increasingly become more important with regards to youth participation in sport.
The second keynote speaker was by Professor Astrid Schubring, (University of Cologne, Germany, and University of Gothenburg) who discussed insights from the lived experiences of athletes when it comes to their sustainable career development. The speaker, with research interests in athlete health and well-being, managed to provide a tour d’horizon of the field of research on athletes’ career development including aspects to do with the influence of social context, cultural, structures, norms and policies on athletes and their careers. Taken together, the field of research is taken to be devoid of athletes actual lived experience when accounting for their career development, which Astrid brings to the table by taking into account this ‘lived experience’ within the concept of sustainability science. The speaker shed light on a research study of Swedish top athletes medaled between 2015 and 2021 in World Competitions, Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, in both individual and team sport. The main takeaways from this keynote address were that when taking into account lived experiences, athletes’ careers are seldom linear, hence there are different needs depending on an athlete’s ‘career pathway’. This puts the onus on researchers to better communicate athletes’ lived experiences to understand and redesign social facts.
Professor Penney ended on a high note when she reflected that everyone was essentially a ‘policy actor’, hence ensuring sustainable futures in PE and sustainability was essentially about being collaborative to create systems, policies and practices that empower and enable more people.
Day two of the conference started off quite earlier with voluntary morning jogging and yoga sessions which ended in a collective walk to the conference hall where the day’s keynote would be given by Professor Dawn Penney, who is a health and physical education, physical activity, and sport expert from Edith Cowan University in Australia. She eloquently and skillfully centered her keynote address around the development and designing of future policy and pedagogy in Physical Education that is informed by sustainability and inclusion notions by sharing her research projects on the meanings and implications of sustainability and inclusion agendas for curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment in Physical Education. She further spoke about the contemporary developments in Physical Education policy and pedagogy, and why knowledge, skills and understandings of informal sport participation are important in terms of curriculum development and physical education sustenance. Some of the important aspects of teaching aimed at informal sport participation that were raised include structure and support, and having social skills. Some of the markers for recognizing progress in learning were said to include developing students’ assessment literacy along with students’ agency. Professor Penney ended on a high note when she reflected that everyone was essentially a ‘policy actor’, hence ensuring sustainable futures in PE and sustainability was essentially about being collaborative to create systems, policies and practices that empower and enable more people.
Kristoffer Henriksen, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark and a practicing sport psychologist discussed the impact of the environment in an athlete’s journey at various life stages with special focus on the Talent Development stage. Through employment of psychological and ecological systems theories, Henriksen adopted an athlete-in-environment perspective to highlight how the people, situations and things around an athlete might impact on her/his talent development. Since sustainable practices was a major concept in the conference theme, creating sustainable talent development in this case requires creating an enabling and supportive environment where athletes can thrive, develop, and maintain their talent on a long-term basis
Key points from the parallel sessions
Day one was dominated by a good number of parallel sessions. The first bloc of parallel session had themes on Health Promotion, Physical Education and Coaching and Dual Careers and here are a few impressions from this parallel segment:
Valeri Jacot, a freshly graduated sports science master student at Malmö University presented her findings from her master’s thesis titled ‘Nature Experiences and Education for Sustainability in Physical Education and Teacher Education – Environmental Identities of PE teachers in Sweden and Switzerland’. Her comparative research was highly inspired by the friluftsliv concept in Sweden (directly translated as “Fresh Air Life”) which emphasizes the connection between physical activity and nature. She was intrigued by the fact that such a concept did not exists in Switzerland and therefore decided to explore environmental identities of PE teachers in the two somewhat similar yet different European countries. By asking the PE teachers in both countries to draw what comes to mind when she said the word, “nature” and following up with interviews and FGDs, her study revealed differences in the PE teachers’ environmental identities. For some, nature was simply a physical setting where activities took place, others showed a personal concern for nature, still others viewed themselves as part of nature. The major difference emerging from the two countries was that Swedish PE teachers’ reflections about nature and environment (more than Swiss ones) were partly influenced by the PETE they received. This research recommended building on and integrating these nature reflections into the PE curricula to achieve more sustainability in the area.
For some, nature was simply a physical setting where activities took place, others showed a personal concern for nature, still others viewed themselves as part of nature.
In the Physical Education parallel segment, the paper ‘Sustainable development perspectives in physical education in the Nordic physical education curricula: a cross-country comparison of status and pre-conditions’ was presented by Suzanne Lundvall. She showed how, even though Physical Education has the potential to contribute to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030 Agenda, links towards the SDGs had been largely absent in PE teacher education (PETE). She presented some findings from her work on this topic within the Nordic PE curricula by showing how the different Nordic countries integrate sustainable development practices into PE. Furthermore, experts who had taken part in the cross-country study earmarked the specific SDGs relevant to PE, and this culminated in SDG 3 on good health and well-being; SDG 4 on Quality Education; SDG 5 on Gender Equality; SDG 10 on Reducing Inequalities; and SDG 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities. The research presented also embraced the use of Systems thinking requiring interaction with peers and the environment. Overall, this was a particularly relevant parallel segment as the cross-country approach adopted can allow for policymakers and educators to learn from one another on how to integrate sustainable practices into P.E.
Day 2 saw a third block of parallel sessions at the conference overall. Like day 1, it featured themes along the lines of Health Promotion, Physical Education and Coaching and Dual Careers. An interesting presentation by Carolina Lunde from Gothenburg University revealed that “Receiving a Lower Grade in Physical Education is Associated with Adverse Body Image Outcomes”. Lunde presented findings from a longitudinal study over one school year. Her quantitative research was framed within four main body image constructs which included Appearance satisfaction, Functional Satisfaction, Social Physique Anxiety and Functional Investment. More focus was put on the Functional Investment construct which is concerned with pupils seeking out spaces where they can be physically active. The research stemmed from the background that Swedish children receive their first grade when they are in school year six and are about 12 years old. At this point in time, they are going through puberty-related and self-image changes. If the grades are bad grades, they become discouraged and create a negative body image and lower self-esteem among the pupils. This in turn results in less functional investment which creates a repeated cycle in which pupils show less interest in movement culture and thus get poor grades. Lunde concluded with an interesting question about whether grading somewhat conflicts with the PE curriculum’s goal of increasing long-term interest in physical activity.
Jan Mustell talked about “Beginning teachers’ descriptions of ball games as pedagogic practice in Swedish physical education”. This research presented the need for deliberate efforts to facilitate the proper use of ballgames in PE. Research findings brought to our attention the aspect of competition associated with most ballgames re-surfacing in PE lessons. In the initial stages of the research, especially some male pupils could not avoid being competitive during PE classes where ball games were used. They had a hard time separating their participation in association sports and PE classes. However, after being reminded that competition is not the main aim in PE, they became more aware and re-adjusted their play to include everyone and to play fair during PE lessons.
The second day of the conference witnessed poster presentations mostly by PhD students, along with various other research groups. It was an opportunity to highlight their research projects and receive constructive feedback from various conference participants. The well-designed and attractive posters covered various topics around Sport and Physical activity ranging from “Migrant Integration through sport”, “Linkages between the sports industry and free trade to achieve Sustainable Development Goal outcomes”, “Physical Activity through Enriched Pre-school Environments”, and “Young people’s participation in movement culture and the role of digital technologies” among many others. The poster presentations were generally relaxed exchanges, where various doctoral students and researchers elegantly and concisely conveyed their research ideas. Overall, it was a very insightful and thought-provoking session with perceptive questions, exchanges and suggestions useful for improving the researchers’ work.
In the last minutes of the conference, following on from the poster presentation, the participants gratefully applauded all the conference organizers, listened to the concluding remarks, and witnessed the prize-awarding. The prize for the best Sport Science Master thesis of the year was awarded to Elin Bergström from University of Gothenburg whose research was tied into Astrid Schubring’s and explored Career Development in Paralympic Sport through a multi-case study of Swedish Paralympians.
And so, that’s all she wrote! After 3 months of preparations, which proceeded through applying for a poster presentation slot at the outset of our PhD projects before going on to prepare a poster, and culminated in poster presentations either side of high-level keynote addresses, parallel sessions, buffet dinner and a fair, good old tour of Gothenburg – this grand old city – the SVEBI conference 2023 had finally come and gone. As for other Malmö University first year PhD students before us, it provided a good budding ground for us to concretize our research ideas while also exposing ourselves to new insights, thereby making it a highly rewarding conference in our humble opinion.
Copyright © Comfort Ankunda & Webster Tinashe Chakawata 2024