What is wrong with Physical Education?

Physical education remains one of the most controversial subject in schools, because it is often seen as something that divides the students. This creates a noticeable love/hate-relationship between pupils towards PE. Is the subject really only supporting gifted individuals?  Where should the focus be for future students and teachers?

In this blog series I discuss the most common problems regarding physical education and try to alleviate the problems they cause.

“I am forced to do what I don’t like”

One of the reasons why physical education divides opinion is that some students feel they are forced to do what they do not enjoy. Forcing someone to do what they hate only encourages a lifetime of loathing for exercise. So, if your strongest memories of PE lessons are of the teacher yelling at you for not trying hard enough, the fault is more likely your teacher’s. The reality is that a strict physical education curriculum only encourages the problem more. The athletic ones progress even further while the non-athletic ones don’t. This, on the other hand, widens the gap in both skill-level and motivation. On a broader sense, bringing more variety into the classes and finding “your thing” promotes an active lifestyle in the exercise you choose. This can even lead to a life-long hobby.

PE needs a lot of variety in exercises
Physical education should have room for individual activities

For teachers, the real problem is to find a way to fully incorporate every students’ exercise needs. If the focus is on a narrow selection of activities, it will hardly provide enough variety for the needs of all students. It is important to understand that weekly PE lessons are not enough to have an impact to your physical condition. However, given enough different activities to choose from, students are more likely to find something that interests them. The benefit of a well-rounded teacher is that he/she understands the students’ needs and is able to provide a variety of positive experiences.

It is crucial to remember that adolescents are in a very delicate age and need support from adults they trust. Nearly half of the kids’ days are spent at school. This creates a tremendous responsibility for the teachers to show example and guide students towards their own goals. This is also a matter of which the parents should talk to the school about in order to stay consistent in these objectives.

“It is all about team sports”

It is quite common to feel that physical education is solely focused on team sports while neglecting individual exercises that benefits other individuals. This might be exaggerating but the same idea still holds truth to it. The sheer quality of lesson planning and the amount of dedication do not serve all students the same way. It is always up to the teacher to decide what the classes consist of and where the focus will be.

The real dilemma is that the more active students are often more vocal about what they want from these classes. Therefore, they are more likely to have an impact on the actual classes, which could lead to favoritism towards certain sports.  Athletic individuals already show competitiveness and skill in these sports. Therefore, it is easy to support their needs and physical development.

A solution for this would be to create a whole physical education calendar based on the students’ individual needs. Why come up with classes that no one is interested in?

PE needs a lot of variety in exercises
Physical education should have room for individual activities such as swimming

The calendar should create a balance between team sports and individual activities and they should be implemented in a way that benefits a wide range of students. For example, school teams and track coaching should be a whole another matter. If a student shows promise in competitive ability, he/she should be able to focus on developing these skills outside of regular PE classes. Therefore, it is also important that the teacher understands when to be a coach and when to be a teacher.

Teacher = An educator, helps with upbringing alongside parents towards a healthy and active lifestyle

Coach = Helps student athletes become physically, mentally and psychologically better, enhancing performance

Social atmosphere benefits everyone

Even gifted athletes benefit from a social atmosphere, working together and having a genuine interaction with others even if they are not the most sporty of people. Helping others is always an important lesson to learn.

The key to great group chemistry and motivation is to create an atmosphere during classes that focuses less on competitiveness and more towards constructive social goals. After all, exercise should be a fun thing to do with friends or just by yourself. To me, It is also the only way to have an actual lasting impact in young people’s exercise habits or otherwise active lifestyle. An hour or two of physical education is not going to make an impact into anyone’s overall health. Just find what you like and do it for your own enjoyment.

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