Sport studies open up new career options for youths

While many public schools do not treat sport as an opportunity for education, Cambridge International School educates students about taking their field know-how into an office.

DUBAI // Before heading to cricket practice, Muafah Amran spent the morning learning whether she needed an anaerobic or aerobic energy training routine to enhance her performance in the game.

The 16-year-old is a high school student enrolled in a sports programme at Cambridge International School in Dubai.

"I love sports, so I took it up as a subject," she said. "In our theory class, we learnt about the cardiovascular system, its functions and how to measure blood pressure."

Health programmes were also recently introduced at public schools and instruction time in physical education was increased to three classes a week this year.

But, in a sense, Cambridge International is running into the wind - its focus on sport comes at the same time as Dr Abdulsalam Alzabi, who heads the department of physical education at UAE University, has said the idea of physical education has been diluted in public schools over the years.

The lack of higher education options and minimal career guidance at schools may also deter many students from pursuing it at a professional level, he said.

"For a long time, sports and physical education were termed as student activities," he said.

UAE University was the only tertiary institution in the country that offered a physical education degree but stopped the programme 10 years ago - today, Dr Alzabi's department mainly heads up extracurricular activities.

Cambridge International offers its sports qualification through Edexcel, a UK-based examination board, to high school students. Sandra Carter, the assistant principal and head of strategic curriculum development, said many parents do not see physical education as a prospective career for their children.

"There are many opportunities that a sports qualification can lead to - like jobs in physiotherapy, psychology of sports, sports development and special needs sports," Ms Carter said.

Sports and physical education courses work on two levels: introducing the students to different sports and the sports industry, and creating an awareness about nutrition, safety and a healthy lifestyle.

Team building and leadership qualities are honed through planning and leading sports events and undertaking outdoor and adventure activities.

Sport Science is a choice offered to high schools in the UK, but has been slow to catch on in the UAE. Not many international curriculum schools offer it as a subject.

Physical education is also restricted to a few lessons in a week or comes in the form of after-school activities.

At Jumeirah English Speaking School, which follows the UK curriculum, physical education is a compulsory component of the daily schedule. R D Stokoe, the school director, said the school wants to go one step further and use its elaborate sports facilities to teach Sport Science courses.

His plans include restructuring the indoor sports stadium to accommodate classes, so students can analyse matches as they are being played.

"Sports Science has grown from 'you do that if you cannot do anything else' into a physically demanding academic area of study," he said.

Mr Stokoe believes there is also demand for nutritionists and fitness experts as people become more health conscious.

"Introducing this at school will lay the foundation for higher degree programmes in personal training and physical education."

Khalid Al Qubaisi, who today works at the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, initially enrolled in an engineering programme after leaving high school, even though his ambition was to become a professional athlete.

"The only university that was offering degrees in physical education stopped, and unfortunately there are no such programmes in the UAE," he said.

"We need more professional coaches, trainers and nutritionist here," said the UAE national who has now enrolled in a masters programme in personal training, biomechanics and anatomy in the US.

Dr Alzabi said UAE University plans to reestablish Sports Science and attract students to careers in the field.

"We are trying to develop two majors: physical education and physical fitness," he said.

He said the university hopes to attract more women into the profession, too. "This will open doors for them to work as teachers, in health and sports clubs and also the armed forces."