February 12, 2022

What Physical Educators Can Learn From Norway's Olympic Success.

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The 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing are underway and - as I write this - Norway is at the top of the medal standings.


Norway is a bit of an anomaly: it's a relatively small country at 5.3 million people (which ranks it #119 in the world based on population size), yet somehow it is an Olympic beast.

Prior to the games in Beijing beginning, Norway had 368 medals at the Winter Olympic Games (132 gold, 125 silver, 111 bronze). That count ranks them in the number one spot in all-time medal winners at the Winter Olympics, ahead of the United States (305) and Germany (240).

So what's going on here? What makes Norway so successful at the Olympics and what can we - as physical educators - take away from their approach?

The Joy Of Sport - For All

Earlier this year, I read an article in The Globe And Mail that broke down this Norwegian Olympic phenomenon. In the article, the author attributes Norway's success to the country's belief in "The Joy of Sport - For All": an approach to youth sport that encourages participation over elitism and aims to produce responsible citizens, not just great athletes.

I dug a little deeper into the official documents that outline this idea and - honestly - it's pretty amazing.

The Joy Of Sport For All isn't so much a policy as it is a spirit in which all sport policies in Norway are written. At the organizational level, it values volunteerism, democracy, loyalty, and equality. At the activity level, it aims to promote joy, unity, health, and honesty.

One of my favourite quotes from the document really does a great job of summing it all up:

"We have succeeded only when everyone feels welcome, and when the spirit of community and the true joy of sport characterize the day-to-day activities in the local sports clubs."

Children's Rights In Sport

Now, if the Joy Of Sport For All seems very child-centric, that's because Norway's "Children's Rights in Sport" serve as its foundation.

These rights - of which there are seven - seek to protect children as they experience sport at various levels. The seven rights outlined in the document are:

  • Safety
  • Friendship
  • Competency
  • Influence
  • Freedom To Choose
  • Competitions For All
  • On The Children's Terms

Check out the graphic that I posted above for additional information on what each of these rights entails. What's important to know is that Norway works to make sure that these rights are embedded in every child's sporting experience. These efforts are obviously worthwhile: not only is Norway incredibly successful at the Olympics, 80% of Norwegian children aged 6-12 participate in one or more sports.

Physical Education Takeaways

As I read the article and did a bit of research to learn more, I started thinking about what physical education could learn from Norway's approach to supporting and celebrating youth in sport.

Ultimately, it all boiled down to the following six takeaways:

Create A Positive Learning Environment

As physical educators, we should focus on developing meaningful relationships with our students and creating a positive learning environment for every child and youth that walks into our gym. All students should feel that they are welcomed, safe, and able to achieve success in PE. Those things don't just happen on their own: they are the products of intentional, purposeful action.

Foster Connectedness

Help students develop positive social connections by providing them with opportunities to develop social skills, social awareness, and conflict resolution strategies. A great way to achieve this is by baking meaningful social and emotional learning experiences into your lessons.

Additionally, look into adopting teaching models that promote social interaction (e.g. cooperative or jigsaw learning). These types of strategies can help every student feel that they are a valued member of their classroom community (which can also work wonders for boosting their motivation in class).

Differentiate Your Instruction

Differentiate your instruction to ensure that every student is able to experience success in PE. There are a variety of strategies that you can use to do this. The two I would recommend would involve setting clear learning targets in your lessons (so that both your students and yourself are on the same page) and upping your formative assessment game. Formative assessment helps you identify where your students are in their learning progress, which puts you in a better position to understand what they need to keep moving forward.

Really what you want is to ensure that your approaches are designed to meet the needs (e.g. development, emotional, physical) of each student.

Support Student Autonomy

Provide students with opportunities to exercise their autonomy by promoting voice and choice. Also, consider inviting students to share thoughts on your curriculum and - when possible - allow them to choose how to demonstrate mastery.

Autonomy is one of the three pillars of self-determination theory, which helps us make sense of how motivation works. Check out my blog post on motivation to learn more strategies that you can use to support it in your lessons.

Focus On Accessibility

Reflect on the barriers that may exist in your physical education or school sport program and do the work to remove those barriers for students. To help with the identification process, survey students to learn what may be impeding their participation.

The more that we are willing to listen, the faster we can improve. It can be so easy to overlook a blatantly obvious barrier simply because we forget to look at our programs through the eyes of their end-users: our students. By keeping students involved and at the heart of our teaching, we can ensure that every kid gets the most out of PE.

Keep Joy In Physical Education

Joy is essential to meaningful experiences in physical education, and early, meaningful experiences in PE play an important role in lifelong engagement in physical activity. With the pressures of grading, schedules, and everything else that teachers have to manage, it can be easy to lose sight of making sure that our students experience joy in PE.

Again, talk to your students. Show them that you care enough about their experiences that you are willing to hear the hard things and make changes. By doing so, you can help keep joy at the heart of all you do in PE and help your students thrive!


What makes Norway so successful is the same thing that makes great PE programs so exceptional: they both remember to cherish children and youth and keep kids at the centre of their own experiences.

I hope this post gave you some ideas on how to bring the Joy Of Sport For All to your teaching. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some Olympics to watch!

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Thanks so much for reading and happy teaching!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com.
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