Why Research REALLY Matters to SHAPE America

In today’s climate of fake news and neglect of science, it’s easy to dismiss evidence as something we don’t really need to help K-12 health and physical education professionals thrive in their day-to-day work. After all, health and PE have been taught in schools for more than a century.

So, you might be wondering: “Who needs research anyway?”

Over the years, high-quality research has supported many advances in our field. For example, we have a better understanding now than we did 40 years ago of the developmental patterns in the movement of youngsters and of the impact of health-enhancing physical activity.

We also know what sets effective teachers apart from the rest and the impact of new instructional approaches to teaching games, as well as some of the barriers that keep our K-12 professionals from thriving in their workplace environment.

In short, we know more now than we did before.

Why Do We Need Research in HPE?

Building this better understanding, or base of evidence, is essential for several reasons. For example, the knowledge gained from conducting research is critical to helping improve the preparation of new teachers — and to support the continued growth of experienced teachers through professional development.

Furthermore, research findings can be used to inform the public about the central role that our profession plays in the education of the whole student and that healthier children are more ready to learn.

Finally, credible evidence can function as what Cochran-Smith (2002) calls “a weapon” — used to convince district- and state-level policymakers to mandate specific policies that support the work of our teachers in schools (e.g., requiring a minimum number of minutes of health and physical education taught by certified professionals, not allowing other subjects, such as JROTC and marching band, to be used as substitutes for completing physical education courses).

SHAPE America Research Agenda

The SHAPE America Research Council has, with support from leadership, initiated the development of a research agenda for the organization (and beyond). Five teams of researchers are developing the agenda, which covers different areas of:

  • Physical Education
  • Health Education
  • Motor Development
  • Youth Physical Activity
  • Sport Pedagogy

Each team has reviewed the existing knowledge base to determine where there are still gaps in what we know. Based on these gaps, teams are mapping out an agenda for future research projects aimed at answering fundamental questions that remain unanswered.

Each team will produce a white paper to be published in an upcoming issue of SHAPE America’s flagship research journal, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (RQES). The first white paper, which focuses on critical questions around youth physical activity, can be found in the September issue.

Building a Stronger Organization and Profession

It is crucial for the profession that we get answers to the questions raised by the five teams of researchers in the next few years. However, conducting the proposed research is also critical to SHAPE America, putting the organization in a much stronger position to identify alternative funding opportunities and develop strategic partnerships with other professional and government organizations with similar interests in children and youth. It can help secure funding for projects and build much-needed advocacy initiatives across national and state levels.

This is the first time in the organization’s history that SHAPE America has sought to develop a research agenda, and the Research Council is excited about the prospect that the research initiatives will pay a dividend, by strengthening the evidence needed to support our K-12 professionals and the organization itself.

Whether you are an elementary physical educator, a middle school health educator, a sport coach, or a researcher in kinesiology, and join the conversation or partner with a researcher to answer real-world questions.

Hans van der Mars

Hans van der Mars is a professor in physical education and program coordinator in the Physical Education Teacher Education program at Arizona State University. He is a former SHAPE America Board of Directors member, Research Council Chair, and RQES Editorial Board member.

Darla Castelli

Darla Castelli is a professor in the Physical Education Teacher Education and Health Behavior Health Education programs at the University of Texas, Austin. She is a former Research Council Chair and current chair of the RQES Editorial Board.