The other day I had a conversation with some friends online about our experiences in gym class when we were growing up. Most of us disliked that class quite a bit growing up, and none of us came away from it with positive feelings about sports or exercise in general.
There were many different reasons for those reactions, but the biggest ones had to do with our complete disinterest in sports and lack of athletic prowess in general.
This is a real shame. Physical Education teachers have a golden opportunity to show students how to stay fit regardless of how coordinated or athletic they might be. I empathize with how difficult it must be to get kids interested in gym class if they show up already expecting to hate it, but I’d also argue that there are a lot of changes that could be made to the way P.E. classes are run that will make them far more appealing to kids who aren’t athletic and who don’t think of exercise as a fun activity.
Today I’ll be sharing those recommendations. If there are any gym teachers reading this blog, I’d be quite interested in hearing your response to this post. These are the six things that I wish my gym teachers had done differently when I was in their classes.
Explained Why It’s Important to Exercise
My English teachers regularly explained why it was important to know how to write a grammatical sentence or be familiar with certain authors. They used examples like writing a formal letter or understanding certain literary references that the vast majority of adults know.
My math teachers told us how equations helped you save money or solve problems as an adult. They used examples like figuring out how much a sale item will cost after the 30% discount or calculating how many gallons of paint to buy when you repaint your living room.
None of my gym teachers ever made the connection between what they taught in class and what we’d need to know in order to function well as adults. We played endless rounds of basketball, football, volleyball, and other sports without hearing a single word about how exercise strengthens your heart, builds your muscles, burns calories, or reduces your risks of many different diseases.
It was like being given an equation that didn’t make sense and then never being told what the real answer should have been.
Because I said so isn’t a persuasive or helpful response in these scenarios. Kids, and especially teenagers, are smart enough to be told why they’re being expected to do something. It might be a while before they come to fully appreciate these lessons, but I think that explaining the reasons for gym class would go a long way to encouraging reluctant students to change their habits.
Taught Us the Proper Form
I wasn’t the most coordinated kid in the world, so I’m definitely not going to lay all of the blame on the injuries I regularly received in gym class on the teachers.
There were multiple times when I sprained fingers or got bruised up in gym class.
Yes, some of them were true accidents that could have happened to any child.
With that being said, I do think I would have been injured much less often if we’d all been taught the proper posture for the sports we were playing and if someone had corrected my posture if it still wasn’t right.
This never happened once in all of my years of attending public school. As an adult, I sympathize with my teachers for being responsible for the physical education of so many kids. I don’t think we should expect perfection from teachers in this area, but I do think they should have the support and resources to prevent as many injuries as possible.
Eliminated Dodgeball and Picking Teams
Dodgeball is the only sport I can think of where the purpose of it is to throw balls at people and purposefully hit them. I don’t know about you, but I remember feeling pain when those dodgeballs smacked me. This was not a pleasant experience in any way.
It’s one thing if a small group of friends decide to play this game at recess, but school isn’t an appropriate place to make kids to throw objects at each other.
If it happened in any other context, the kid who threw the object would be sent to the principal’s office and possibly even suspended or expelled for assault.
Picking teams is unnecessary, ripe for bullying behaviours, and a waste of time. It would be so much faster to divide the students by preassigning groups or having them count off (e.g. 1 through 4) so they could quickly be divided into four equal sections.
Spent 1/3 of the School Year on Non-Competitive Sports
Yes, I know that many schools have limited budgets for their physical education departments and therefore can only offer certain types of workouts to their students.
The schools I attended didn’t have anything fancy like swimming pools or tennis courts. We had gyms that always smell faintly of perspiration, plenty of old sports equipment, and far more wrestling mats than we knew what to do with.
With that being said, there are plenty of inexpensive and even free types of exercise out there that don’t require any competition at all.
For example, there would be little to no equipment needed at all for a P.E. teacher to teach martial arts or several different units on various types of dancing. The music for the dance classes could be piped in over the loudspeakers or played on an old boombox. Many types of martial arts don’t require any equipment at all.
Spent 1/3 of the School Year on Individual Sports
One of the reasons why I hated gym class so much growing up is that 95% of the units we did were team sports.
Basketball, volleyball, baseball, football, and hockey might be good workouts, but they didn’t appeal to me in the least. The more I played them, the less open I became to exercising at all.
While I do think it was a good idea to expose kids to team sports, I’d also argue that it’s just as important to show students the many ways they can work out that have nothing at all to do with competition or teams.
There are so many other ways to strengthen your heart and body that could easily be taught to students depending on their ages and what types of equipment are already available at the school: yoga, weightlifting, jogging, bodyweight exercises, and gymnastics to name a few.
The final third of the year could be dedicated to various team sports. Some kids honestly do enjoy those forms of exercise, so I’d be fine with keeping them as a small part of the curriculum.
Occasionally Given the Students a Say
This is by far the biggest change I’d recommend making to the way physical education classes are currently run.
My high school Spanish class was allowed to vote on which pre-approved Disney movie we wanted to watch after we’d studied that language for a while and were reading to start practicing our listening skills in real time.
One of my elementary school teachers regularly let us vote on which pre-approved book to read as a class next. This would be a little trickier to do in high school since certain authors are often required to be taught, but I could see a secondary English teacher narrowing down the choices to two or three Shakespeare plays and then seeing which one their class was most interested in studying over the next month.
Being able to have a say in those classes made me much more interested in reading those books and watching those movies.
There’s no reason why gym teachers can’t offer their students the same choice. Why not let them decide whether they’ll spend the next few weeks playing basketball or learning how to square dance? They’ll be exercising either way, and the fact that the teacher listened to them will mean a lot.
What were your experiences with gym class growing up? What could your P.E. teacher have done differently to get you more involved in that class?