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Re-imagining Sports Day through a lens of Well-being

The potential of Physical Education

PE has the potential to foster lifelong enjoyment and motivation for physical activity. Research by Ladwig, A, Vazou, S., and Ekkekakis, P (2018) found that childhood memories of PE impact attitudes towards physical activity and sedentary behavior in adulthood. They also reported that 52% of participants' strongest memories were feelings of embarrassment and lack of enjoyment. So whilst PE has the potential to foster lifelong enjoyment, could these experiences and feelings also have a negative impact on physical activity levels beyond childhood?

As a PE team we aim to equip students with skills that enable them to participate and enjoy PE and physical activity whilst understanding the how, why and when they move. We create an environment where students have opportunities for agentic engagement, connecting our programme of inquiry to meet the needs of students within our local context. We believe that through this ecosystem students get to individually and collectively engage in physical activity which can enrich their lives. 

So how could our end of year celebration, traditionally known as  ‘Sports Day’, mirror what we value within our programme of inquiry while also being aligned to our schools mission, vision and values? 

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) #3 Good Health and Well-Being

As one of two United Nations schools in the world, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are important drivers in our pedagogical approach to teaching and learning. The SDGs are an aspirational blueprint, a shared commitment of all United Nations member states. They aim to ‘... transform our world. They are a call to action to end poverty and inequality, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy health, justice and prosperity.’ WHO

As proponents of the benefits of physical activity on health, ability to learn, think clearly and cope with stress, as supported by Dr John Ratey’s book “Spark” we could see clear connections with SDG #3 (Good health and Well-Being), and particularly target 3.4: ‘By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.’

Following the pandemic, there has been an increased shift in focus towards well-being. Whilst being seen as advocates of well-being within our school, as we considered re-imagining Sports Day with a well-being lens we had to ask ourselves, what does well-being mean? We framed our thinking through Dr Martin Seligman’s theory of well-being: PERMA. 

The PERMA model conceptualizes a number of factors that contribute to well-being. The elements are defined, measured and pursued independently of each other (Seligman 2012). The five elements are: 

  • Positive Emotion - More than just happiness. Positive emotion can include, but is not limited to joy, compassion, awe, hope, interest and love. 
  • Engagement - Framed through Mihay Csikszentmihalyi (1990) work on ‘Flow’. During ‘flow’ experiences we are intensely focused on a task, and time may seem to stop as we lose our selves in the task. Two conditions for flow to occur are a ‘just right’ challenge and clear goals with immediate feedback. 
  • Relationships - The ‘R’ is for Positive Relationships. The hallmark of positive relationships is not one from which negative experience or interaction has been eradicated. In fact, positive relationships do include some negativity. However, the balance between positive and negative should be a healthy one, where the positive outweighs the negative. (Gottman and Silver 1995)
  • Meaning - Meaning and purpose in lif, belonging to and serving something that one believes is bigger than the self. 
  • Accomplishment - Achievement, competence or mastery is often pursued for its own sake, even though it can be  linked to numerous areas, e.g. a sense of meaning or positive emotion 

(Seligman 2013)

Re-imagining through a lens of well-being

With our shared understanding of well-being and the framework of the Personal, Social & Physical Education (PSPE) scope and sequence (from International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme), we intentionally matched the day’s activities to the three strands:

When designing our activity choices, we followed some guiding principles: 

  • Connections with and a celebration of our Programme of Inquiry
  • Connections to our host country, Vietnam
  • Activities where we could host 100+ students at a time
  • Highly desirable activities, with something for everyone
  • Well-being is more than sport and expands beyond the PSPE scope and sequence

Following the event we sought constructive feedback to help inform planning for next year's event. Positive feedback included: 



As with any new event there were challenges, many we reflected on as a team and lots were captured in our staff and student reflections. In fact, 43% of our teachers responded and filled in 89 responses, from a potential 217, to the question “What challenges were there? What changes would you make?”. We are keeping Ayn Rand’s quote in mind as we embark on improving SDG 3 Day: “Face a challenge and find joy in the capacity to meet it.”

As a framework, we are happy that this day of celebration aligned with our team philosophy. We feel that whilst the framework is there, we could make stronger connections to some of our strands, particularly Interactions. Who might we collaborate with further to develop our offerings? Students? Families? Teachers?

We believe students throughout the course of the day would have experienced the 5 elements of PERMA. Our School Health Centre (SHC), reported that there was a 50% reduction in students self-admitting to the SHC compared to a normal Thursday and a 66% reduction compared to our previous ‘Sports Day’. Is it a stretch to connect this data to PERMA? Probably. This may be part of our next steps as a school - how might we measure student and staff wellbeing? Also, how might the principles of this day, from PERMA through to student choice in creating their schedule for the day be embedded within our daily practises.

Matt and Sydney


Matt is Elementary School PE team lead at UNIS Hanoi (Vietnam) who is dedicated to empowering students to find joy in a diverse range of activities. With a strong passion for research-driven practices, he constantly seeks out evidence-based approaches to enhance teaching and learning experiences. Matt enjoys the application of data to inform his teaching methods, ensuring that students receive the most effective and impactful instruction. Through his work, Matt strives to foster a positive and inclusive environment where students can develop competence, build confidence, and embrace the joy of movement. 

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Sydney is a physical education and biology teacher, currently part of the ES PE team at UNIS Hanoi. With a focus on physical literacy and well-being knowledge, Sydney believes these skills open doors to a healthy life of adventure. Embracing each learner's unique journey, Sydney empowers students to celebrate their own unique adventures and make the most of every opportunity that comes their way. 




Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (1996). Creativity : flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York :Harper Collins Publishers

Ladwig, Matthew & Vazou, Spyridoula & Ekkekakis, Panteleimon. (2018). “My best memory is when I was done with it”: PE memories are associated with adult sedentary behavior. Translational Journal of the ACSM. 3. 119-129

Ratey, J. J. (2013). Spark. Little, Brown & Company.

Seligman, M (2013) Building the state of well being: A strategy for South Australia. Government of South Australia.