PE students put through paces at footy extravaganza

Dr Sam Elliott has been assessing Flinders Physical Education students' event management skills as they host 300 local primary school children at a footy carnival on campus.
Dr Sam Elliott has been assessing Flinders Physical Education students’ event management skills at a recent footy carnival on campus.

Hundreds of South Australian primary school students descended on Flinders University earlier this week for a footy extravaganza with a twist.

While the youngsters, who took part in a series of coaching sessions and AFL ‘Nines’ competitions, probably didn’t notice, older observers might have spotted that the event organisers were only slightly less fresh faced than the participants.

That’s because the entire day was planned and run by 75 Flinders Physical Education students as part of the assessment for their Introduction to Sport Coaching, Management and Administration topic.

Dr Sam Elliott, who is a Lecturer in Sport, Health and Physical Activity at Flinders, said the event had given his students a critical insight into the ‘real world’ of event management.

“My rule is quite simple,” Dr Elliott said. “The students must run and organise absolutely everything, from scratch, just like they would have to in the real world.

“That means zero input from their lecturers beyond their initial event planning training. They have to finance it, market it and execute it on their own.”

It’s a tough brief, but one which Dr Elliott says gives students an essential life lesson in how to deal with the kind of situations some will encounter during their careers.

“This experience is critical because they don’t get it in their placements,” he said. “It’s incredibly valuable for them to be exposed to the world outside their studies in this way.”

The event, which saw 300 children from 15 schools participate in six mini ‘Nines’ events, plus pre-game coaching, has become something of a community enterprise.

“Because our organisers had no direct funding, they needed a lot of support from the local community, and it was really heartening to see how many local businesses and volunteers weighed in to help,” Dr Elliott said.

“We had a signed football from the Adelaide Crows which we raffled to meet some of the costs, meat from a local butcher for the BBQ lunch, plus a whole range of equipment from sports clubs across Adelaide.

“We also had volunteers from St John’s Ambulance giving up their time to make sure we have the necessary first aid on site for the event.”

While fun might have been the main order of the day, the more serious side involved a rigorous assessment of the event by Dr Elliott and his teaching colleague Toby Priest.

“Toby and I were there for the whole day, walking around and asking difficult questions about what the organisers would do if someone got stung by a bee, for example; or if a bus got stuck somewhere, or if someone got lost.

“That can make it really difficult because a student will have to decide whether to leave a really important activity at the drop of a hat, or work out how to adapt in some other way.

“Their responses to these kinds of challenges are an important part of the assessment.”

While those reactions might not be the difference between a pass and a fail, Dr Elliott said they allowed him to identify some students with exceptional skills.

“As with previous years, this on-the-spot pressure allowed us to identify some students with cool heads under pressure and solid crisis management skills,” he said.

“You just can’t assess whether or not people have these skills in the classroom, but it’s important to identify them because they are key traits in future leaders in the field.

“It’s always really exciting to see some students step up to the mark – and even more so when it’s the ones we don’t expect.”

Due to the success of the event and the growth in the number of students studying Physical Education at Flinders University, Dr Elliott said he expected it to go from strength to strength.

“This topic has grown from one class of 20 students to three of 75 in the past four years,” he said. “In addition, we’re looking at growing another 100 per cent, so hopefully that will mean extra opportunities for this kind of high quality engagement with local schools in the future.”

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