How SAAFE are your PE lessons?

Although the health benefits of participating in regular physical activity are extensive, the majority of young Australians are not sufficiently active. The pandemic of ‘physical inactivity’ is not only influencing our health, but also our hip pocket, with global estimates suggesting in excess of US$50 billion is being spent on health care related to inactivity. So how do we encourage our kids to become more active now and provide them with motivation, knowledge, skills and confidence to be active for life?

In February this year, the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition at the University of Newcastle, in collaboration with the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at Australian Catholic University and the Psychology of Exercise, Health and Physical Activity Laboratory at the University of British Columbia, published a research article (which can be found online here) describing the SAAFE (Supportive, Autonomous, Active, Fair, and Enjoyable) teaching principles.

The principles were designed to provide specialist and non-specialist PE teachers with an easy-to-follow framework for delivering high quality learning experiences in the physical domain. They are not ‘rocket science’, but they are based on international research that has explored strategies to increase young people’s motivation and activity levels in PE, community sport and after school programs.

The principles were originally developed for use in the SCORES (Supporting Children’s Outcomes using Rewards, Exercise and Skills) physical activity intervention for primary school children. The SCORES intervention successfully increased children’s physical activity, fitness and fundamental movement skills over a 12-month period. The SAAFE principles are now being used in the iPLAY program, which builds on the success of SCORES.

The SAAFE principles have also been used by secondary school teachers with adolescents. So far, about 200 teachers from across NSW have been provided with training to deliver the NEAT and ATLAS programs, which use the SAAFE principles to teach resistance training skills. In our next project, we will use the SAAFE principles to support the delivery of high intensity interval training (HIIT) with senior school students.

So, what is the secret to creating ‘SAAFE’ physical activity sessions? How can you ensure that every member of your class or team is active and engaged?


Image: Overview of the SAAFE teaching principles

1. Be SUPPORTIVE in your teaching. Take the perspective of the students, provide a rationale for what you are doing, create meaningful connections, use language that is not strict or controlling, and demonstrate emotional support or involvement. Examples: Provide individual skill specific feedback; provide praise on student effort and improvement.

2. Maximise opportunities for individuals to be physically ACTIVE by including high levels of physical activity and minimal transition time. Examples: Avoid elimination games; play multiple mini games to maximise student involvement.

3. Create an AUTONOMOUS environment by providing students with choice and offering graded tasks. Examples: Allow students to choose the music within the lesson; involve students in the modification of the activities/rules.

4. Design and deliver FAIR lessons by providing all students with opportunities to experience success in the physical domain. Examples: Ensure students are evenly matched in activities; encourage self-comparison rather than peer-comparison.

5. Provide an ENJOYABLE experience, as people tend to persist with activities they find intrinsically motivating. Examples: Start and conclude session with an enjoyable activity; do not use exercise as punishment.

Leading this conversation is Professor David Lubans, ARC Future Fellow and Theme Leader of the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Schools theme at the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition at the University of Newcastle. Professor Lubans is extremely passionate about re-engaging children and teens in physical education, through the design and delivery of innovative school-based programs and teacher education initiatives. He believes that the SAAFE principles are an essential component imbedded within the interventions he creates and delivers, and that all teachers should be provided with the knowledge and training to include these principles within their lessons.

Would you like to know more about the SAAFE Teaching Principles? Search for the “Health and Fitness for Teens Workshop” on MyPL. It is a one day, BOSTES accredited professional learning workshop delivered by the Department of Education in collaboration with Professor Lubans and his research team.

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