Should athletes be allowed to skip PE?

April 15, 2009 at 6:46 pm 3 comments

Should athletes be allowed to skip physical education?

The Three Rivers school board in northwest Hamilton County recently voted to let high school athletes, cheerleaders and band members who have been involved in those activities for at least two years forgo gym class. This opens their schedules to take other courses while their peers sweat out state-mandated physical education classes.

“If our kids are involved in an activity over a long period of time, whatever sport they’re in, they’ve already learned or shown a commitment to fitness over a lifetime,” said Chris Brown, Southwest’s superintendent.

But some educators say this isn’t good for teenagers.

Nationwide, health and education groups are pushing for stronger phys ed classes and requirements at a time when school districts need to cut costs and pay attention to student test scores on academic subjects.

A solid PE class – more than sports, cheerleading or band – can teach students about remaining active beyond high school, said Steve Mitchell, a Kent State physical education professor who also coaches high school soccer.

“Consider the high school football player,” he said. “The offensive or defensive linemen have very specific roles in a football team. And football is not a lifetime activity. The majority of those kids will stop playing after high school.

“Unless we educate students in other activities they can pursue across their lifespan, this (waiver) does increase the likelihood that they’ll become sedentary adults.”

Until phys ed classes are radically transformed, however, I say yes, let student-athletes meet their fitness requirements through after school sports programs. Too often, PE classes are filled with only 5-10 minutes of moderate physical activity (once students get changed into their uniforms, line-up for attendance, have the rules of the game explained and taught, pick teams for an activity, get a turn to bat/throw/shoot/hit/etc., and then return to the locker-room to shower and change into their regular clothes for academic classes).

And the argument about football not being a lifelong activity?! Neither is playing whiffle ball or knockout, two of the more popular games played in my high school’s PE classes. Before someone is going to advance an argument like one made by Professor Mitchell made in the article, there needs to be evidence linking participation in high school physical education programs to lifelong physical activity. I am not aware of any such link. [Though there are some interesting results about the relationship between quality physical education and later-life health being conducted by PE4Life, which is linked to in the next paragraph.]

I am in favor for mandatory PE — maybe even (just maybe) for the most elite prep athletes. But it has to be quality physical education… like the kind of programs designed by PE4Life and being utilized in the Naperville School District outside Chicago. The key to true fitness (and academic achievement) is vigorous, cardiovascular activity for sustained periods of time, i.e. 20-40 minutes of activity with regular heart rates at 60-80% of the maximum rate.

In the meantime, let’s exempt the varsity athletes on high school softball, cross-country, soccer, water polo, and other sports programs from having to waste their time playing 5-10 minutes worth of dodgeball in PE class, especially when they could use that class period to take an arts elective or advanced academic course in school.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jesse  |  September 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    You know what really gets to me being a Pe teacher and former coach……. when one of my students in PE class says that they cant run or play because they have a big game and their coach told them not to participate. We are not asking these student athletes to run a marathon. A true athlete should have no problem taking Pe class and performing 100% the entire class and still excell in the “big game”. They should look at Pe class as simply a warm up to their after school activity.
    How do you feel about it? Am i just too hard on the kids?

  • 2. Brian  |  September 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Nope, you are not too hard. They should really excel in PE and still be able to perform on the field later.

    All we are asking for is 6th period PE since our schools athletic events require travel they are “let go” early from school to arrive in time to warm-up and play their game at the other school.

    Our sophomore daughter was given 2nd period PE and 5th period History and 6th Period Math. She requested 6th period PE only to be informed that this is reserved for student athletes.

    This is her second year of Varsity Field Hockey, Varsity Soccer and Varsity Softball. I guess these sports don’t count towards the student athletes the 6th period PE was reserved for… Baseball and Football.

    Along with those sports activities she plays on a high level club soccer team all year round except during HS soccer season, and on the region iv ODP team.

    Maybe she can get a PE exemption for the remainder of the year.

    Frustrated with lazy HS administrators.

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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