Improving Youth Fitness: Let’s Get Rid of Sports in Schools

A focus on sports in PE should be replaced with a focus on youth fitness

Alex Slezak

By Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS

The headline Let’s Get Rid of Sports in Schools was meant to be eye catching to get you to dig into the content of this article. I am not calling for an end to all Varsity and Junior Varsity athletic programs. In fact, as a Varsity coach myself, I think those programs are a wonderful means to get youth active, competing, and learning valuable life lessons. Instead, what I am advocating is eliminating sports from Physical Education curriculums. In fact, just think about what the name Physical Education implies. It certainly is not basketball, football, or soccer. It implies that we teach youth about their bodies, how they work, and how to operate them.

There are two basic models physical education programs have traditionally adopted. The first and most traditionally used is the sport-based model. Basically, this model exposes kids to a bunch of different sports in hopes that a child becomes passionate about one of them and the sport then becomes the means to stay healthy. In my experience, this model flat out does not work. It is like throwing a bunch of darts at the wall and hoping one hits the bull’s-eye. This has been the predominant model for the last few decades, and it has not worked. The proof? Youth who went through this sport-based model are the adults of today who are overweight, obese, diabetic, sedentary, and placing little emphasis on the value Physical Education could possibly have in the lives of their children.

Now let’s look at a different model, the fitness-based model. In this new model, physical education class is basically a private gym for youth. In this model, the kids are taught nutrition, exercise physiology principles, and the value of taking care of their bodies instead of learning to shoot a basketball, which, while fun for some, objectively is far less valuable in the long run.

In this fitness-based model, classes are based on developing fitness and general athletic ability. Elementary students are having fun playing games developing their kinesthetic awareness and coordination. At the secondary level, students are on programs that develop integrated strength, quality movement patterns, power, agility, etc. The non-athletes are engaged in learning how to take care of themselves for their lifetime, and the athletes are doing the same along with training for performance. Everyone is getting better and engaged for uniquely individual reasons. After all, who would not want to be engaged in learning about the body they are going to live in for their lifetime? This is the kind of program that develops children who turn into adults who value taking care of their bodies.

Now, if you still are not sold on this fitness-based model because you love athletics, think about this—if a child does become involved in a sport, they will be more likely to have initial success because of their experiences in Physical Education. In my opinion, there is nothing more motivating to a young child than success early on with something new.

So in closing, let’s stop the fight between athletics and physical education. Let’s allow athletics to teach sports skills and physical education to take on the role of personal training and general athletic development for our youth. In a few decades, we’ll have adults who value their health and the role of physical education in the lives of their children.

Alex is a Physical Education teacher who operates a tennis and fitness training business in Pittsburgh, PA, and is an advocate for improving youth fitness. You can learn more by visiting his website at www.AlexSlezak.com.

4 Responses

  1. Cecil says:

    Your point is very well taken and truly makes sense. However there are a couple of key issues that you do not address. The idea of fitness based physical education is not that new. That is how I grew up. Over the years due to physical education being de-emphasized in our grade schools and high schools and even colleges, budget cuts effecting the low hanging fruit of physical education there are fewer positions and fewer students looking to go into PE. Many PE classes now have large groups of students crammed in to one or two sections of PE for one or two teachers. It is very difficult to do the types of activities you correctly outline in a setting like that. Physical Education in that pure form has been extremely curtailed to almost eliminated. In order to accomplish what you want PE has to be budgetarily and legislatively supported. It has to be seen as equally as important in the education and well being of our children as any other discipline. Currently, that is not the case.

  2. Mike bukowsky says:

    Alex , couldn’t agree more. I finally woke up a couple years ago and realized that I am not a sports coach, I am their physical education teacher. It’s so important kids learn how to move correctly and learn about their bodies, not standing there having a catch with a football that half of them could care less about. My students use med balls, bands, battling ropes etc in class and develop all aspects of health and skill related components of pe. I’m glad people are realizing the same thing !!

  3. Greg Perez says:

    I agree with the fact that Physical Education should be shifted to more of a Fitness model. I do utilize a sports model for social skills. It can be said that PE can create school culture, which I believe. We live in an era where several students can keep themselves entertained with electronics independently for hours, where in the past it was kids had to get outside and play. There seems to be such a huge disconnect with Physical Education and the Fitness Industry. It would be great to have a different approach towards National Standards. We need a committee

  4. Perry Dickens says:

    I agree whole-heartedly! I’ve been teaching PE/Health for 32 years and I have always stressed fitness more than any other colleague I have taught alongside of. Many times that has made me a less popular teacher than the ones who played games all the time. But hey! — that’s not my objective. I’m trying to give the kids what they need, not just what they always want. Most kids will always play sports on their own. But rarely will they work on their fitness components unless they get serious later on about the possibility of excelling in a sport. And by that time they will have a good base if PE is handled right.

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