Conference report: Nordplus Idrott 2013 – Next practice in physical education and movement science

Anna Fabri
Linda Liljedahl
Torun Mattsson
Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University


The second Nordplus Idrott conference was held in Odense in cooperation with Syddansk University (SDU). 2013 also marks the 25th anniversary of the Nordplus Idrott Network. The conference aims to bring together professionals and scientists to present and discuss physical activity and physical education from different perspectives such as sport and exercise science, physical education, health and applied biomechanics at different levels. The Nordplus Idrott Network promotes cooperation between universities and other sport and health organizations. 120 delegates from 12 nations participated in the conference.

This conference report is not a complete summary of the scientific program, but rather reflections on interesting research studies in the large amount of studies presented during the conference.

  • The conference topics were:
  • Physical activity and cognition
  • Developments in pedagogical praxis in relation to physical education (PE)
  • Integrating physical activity in the school day
  • Culture and human movement
  • Physical activities and new technologies
  • Applied biomechanics and ICT.

Lars Bo Andersen, University of Southern Denmark, opened the conference with the first keynote presentation: “Effectiveness of schoolbased physical activity interventions: What do we know?”. Andersen presented a school-based survey conducted with students in Denmark and Norway. It increased the number of PE lessons per week differently for three groups of students and found a positive correlation between the amount of physical activity, health, and cognitive functions.

The second keynote speaker was Charles H. Hillman, University of Illinois, with the paper “Exercise, physical activity and cognition”. Hill’s comprehensive paper concluded that fitness may benefit brain health and academic performance and that early experience of physical activity may shape cognition and its neural underpinnings.

Richard Tinning, University of Queensland and University of Auckland, talked about “Global trends in school (H)PE: Expectations and realities”. The presentation pursued the question why PE has survived as a cultural practice in many countries and the idea of PE as a ‘meme’. This is a term coined by famed biologist Richard Dawkins, but it’s used here foe ideas that replicate. Tinning discussed obesity as an idea of crisis and school PE responding to the obesity crisis. Maybe the next shift in PE is the idea of obesity prevention rather than sport?

Helle Winther, Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen, presented “The language of the body in professional practice: contact, presence, embodied leadership and personal communication” in the dance studio, integrating theory and practice. The presentation focused on the language of the body and the importance of bodily communication for teachers, leaders and health care professionals. The conference delegates practiced bodily communication by walking to music in the room, first without bodily contact, then by shaking hands, and we tried to be present in the room and aware of our own soma.

Sigmund Loland, keynote speaker.
Sigmund Loland, keynote speaker, on ‘Educating sport professional: A defense of Bildung’.

Sigmund Loland, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, was the last keynote speaker and he gave a paper called “Educating sport professional: A defense of Bildung”. He reflected critically on the development of new professional degrees within themes such as physical activity and sport management. Loland emphasized the need for competence and Bildung and he used several historical examples to motivate reflexive knowledge in the education of sport and exercise professionals. He highlighted two normative paradigms; disposition for immorality and laziness (instrumental values) and disposition for play and a quest for meaning (autotelic values). Loland talked about normative energy in relation to sports activity and stressed the importance of not taking away the normative energy for students in Sport science but give them critical perspectives.

Besides the keynote speakers’ presentations, the conference offered workshops which gave opportunities to debate and discuss different current interests in sport science. The following topics were represented:

  • Physical activity and cognition
  • Effectiveness of school-based physical activity interventions
  • Innovation in physical activity and health incl. ICT
  • New pathways and possibilities in physical education and pedagogies

New pathways and possibilities in physical education and pedagogies

We participated in this workshop and four presentations were included: Suzanne Lundvall, “Next practice in PE and movement science: Learning experience’, which focused on describing and analyzing students’ participation in PE; Marie Graffmann-Sahlberg, “A possible mission: A case study of learning health in PEH”, with the aim to examine a laboratory model with focus on physical fitness in subject PEH; Dean Barker “Facilitating group work in PE: Working with post-Vygotskian thinking”, where the purpose was to examine factors that influence learning when two or more learners are co-constructing meaning in the absence of a teacher, employing empirical material from 32 PE lessons in Sweden and concluding that there were few occasions for students to deliberate over PE, although dance was one example of group work; Håkan Larsson, “Queering PE 2.0”, with cases from the same empirical material, and the purpose to outline how prevailing gender structures can be challenged in physical education (PE) through exploring queer potentials in an event taking place during a dancing lesson in an upper secondary physical education class.

Further workshops arranged in the conference were:

  • Applied biomechanics
  • Dance
  • Nordic Outdoor life
  • Ballgames
  • Coaching
  • Sports pedagogies

We participated in Dance and Outdoor life.

Conference poster.
Poster for the well organized and successful Nordplus Idrott conference in Odense.


Dance – imitation and improvisation

The dance workshop discussed the concepts of improvisation and imitation. We practiced contact improvisation (Christina Blicher Johnsen) and Wii dance (Béatrice Gibbs). The delegates discussed how we understand embodied techniques and how we think about the body and movement qualities in dance. Torun Mattsson presented “The position of dance in physical education”, where the aim is to examine the position of dance as a pedagogical discourse in the Swedish steering documents over time. In relation to this workshop, focus was on what kind of dance that is possible in PE. Over a period of 50 years three discourses emerge in the Swedish school system steering documents in relation to the meaning and values of dance; an identity formation discourse, a public health discourse and an aesthetic discourse, which has the weakest position in the curricula. Dance in PE transforms and reduces its artistic value into mere physical activity and/or a cultural preserver.

Nordic Outdoor life – Safety in the Outdoors

Søren Andkjær began the workshop by presenting a project – “TRYG in nature” which aims to identify patterns of accidents in three selected coastal activities (sea kayaking, kite surfing and dinghy sailing) in Denmark. These activities were chosen because they are considered to represent different cultures, and hence traditions, of outdoor activities. The results of the study, which extended between the years 2005–2010, indicated that the safety related to outdoor activities in the coastal region cannot be related to or reduced to one single factor, but rather has to be understood as a complex pattern. The study points out the importance of taking a holistic or cultural approach to risk management, associate with a deeper understanding of the tradition, the context and the taken-for-granted thinking and behaving related to a specific culture.

The last part of the workshop was used to discuss how to work pedagogically to make friluftsliv, outdoor activities, in the school contexts more secure. Some examples from different countries were presented by the participants, which gave interesting insights in how diverse the Requirements are in different countries in terms of preventive safety for outdoor activities in schools.

Poster presentations

  • “To explore nature with the help of a map” by Kerstin Nilsson
  • “Do Wii learn to dance?” By Beatrice Gibbs
  • “With some certainty PE teachers’ understanding about grading criteria” by Jenny Kroon
  • “Physical activity at recess and school-related social factors among grades 4–5 and 7–8 Finnish students” by Henna Haapala et al
  • “The reflective outdoor teacher” by Kerstin Stenberg
  • “Migration and health: An upcoming research project” by Anna Fabri, Malmö University
  • Physical activity across different settings in children attending normal schools and sports schools with extra compulsory physical education lessons: preliminary finding from the CHAMPS-study DK” by Niels Christian Møller et al
  • “Exploring four teachers’ gut feeling of what to grade in physical education” by Lena Sverg
  • “Overweight – a predictor of overuse injuries in children? The Childhood Health, Activity and Motor Performance School Study, a 3-year prospective controlled cohort study” by Eva Jespersen et al
  • “School based intervention – does it alter Physical Health? The Childhood Health, Activity and Motor Performance School Study CHAMPS-Study DK, a 3-year prospective controlled cohort study” by Heidi Klakket et al
  • “Validity and reliability of school-based anthropometric measures and physical fitness among children in Denmark” by John Singhammer et al
  • “Effects of a physical activity intervention program on executive function in overweight children: preliminary results from Odense overweight intervention study” by Tao Huang et al
Conference delegates discussing Anna Fabri’s poster presentation ‘Migration and health: An upcoming research project’.

To summarize, it is obviously very important to meet colleagues and researchers to discuss current sports research and to make contacts and build networks. The dominant impression of the conference was that the organizers had done an amazing job of coordinating all the keynotes, workshops and posters for the 120 delegates who attended the conference. They also had managed to pinpoint the finest spring weather imaginable so we could take leisurely walks during breaks in the beautifully situated campus. We were also offered a guided tour around the ongoing construction project of SDU futuristic sports area. Finally we want to say a big thank you to the SDU and especially to Karsten Froberg and Charlotte Dickmeiss with team for a very well executed conference.

Copyright © Anna Fabri, Linda Liljedahl and Torun Mattsson 2013

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