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