Tagged in: Move Live Learn Blog, Physical and Health Education

Sports vs Physical Education. Why?

Read the facts, draw your own conclusion, then pray Congress gets it right

Hi everyone, I have been out of the blogging and keeping quiet (for me) via Twitterverse lately. The good news is that the primary reason for this is that I am working on a really wonderful project sponsored by the Province of Nova Scotia, Department of Health and Wellness. But, I had to shift gears a few nights ago and I wrote my local Representative and Member of Congress here in the Show Me State, Missouri, regarding a bill that’s on the table.

The bill - Section A. Chapter 170, RSMo, is amended by adding one new section, to be known as section 170.044

Basically, what is says is that high school athletes can receive physical education credit for participating on a school athletic team. Now, given what 21st century quality physical education is, I know this is wrong. Below are some highlights of the letters that I wrote to my local politicians. I hope that, if you are in MO, you will do the same. If you happen to live in other states with such a law, I hope that you will take initiative to speak at the school district level to let your elected members know just how wrong this is.

Advocacy, in my humble opinion, is educating. It’s not about yelling loudly, waving our hands, or putting others down. It’s simply explaining the facts to others who might not be as passionate about the area. So, here goes my attempt to educate others on why:

Sport should be offered after school in addition to quality physical education, not in lieu of it.

Before you get into the heart of this post, understand that I LOVE sports. My partner and I were both student athletes in college and coached at the D1 NCAA/CIS level. I advocate for sport and am co-founder of a local non-profit youth wrestling club in my community here in St. Louis. I am a self described Olympic junkie and still love competing in endurance sporting events. You get the picture. My point here is that we should be finding more ways for kids to be physically active, not trying to open up more time during the school day for them to sit learn.

1. Sport in lieu of physical education does not fully prepare students to be physically literate individuals.

The new national physical education standards (available here) are based on the concept of physical literacy. A key component of physical literacy is that:

“Individuals who are physically literate will develop competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities.”
- PHE Canada

Thus, participation in sport - while a wonderful use of time after school - will not fully support students’ development as physically literate people. You see, quality PE also offers outdoor pursuits (hiking, biking, etc.), educational gymnastics, an understanding of personal fitness/setting goals related to fitness, etc. It is not possible to have such a variety of rich experiences with sport specialization at a young age.

2. Sport may or may not support students’ levels of physical activity at moderate to vigorous intensities.

  • Physical activity at moderate to vigorous intensity...
  • Decreases rates of depression.
  • Increases learning readiness (how ready and how optimal a student can learn).

If physical education is removed from the school day, students will likely be less ready to learn optimally.

Moreover, at the JV and varsity levels, there are many sport participants who do not:

  • Receive enough playing time for health benefit (moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity). Many rosters carry a large amount of players who do not compete in games.
  • Play a position in a sport that results in adequate physical activity for health benefit (moderate to vigorous intensity) (Examples include: team managers, guards in football, goalkeeper in field sports, golf).

Of course sport provides a wonderful platform to teach life lessons, but these lessons don’t occur magically.

Sport can also be a stressor for participants who do not receive a lot of playing time!

On practice days the day before a game, the non-starters often don’t receive rigorous levels of activity. The same can be said for days after competition. Keep in mind that these are the same members who don’t receive much playing time on game day. So, not only would student athletes miss out on learning about why physical activity is so important, they would miss out on opportunities to be active optimal for health benefit (physical, emotional, social health) and learning readiness that comes from physical activity before or during the school day.

Been there, experienced that. While it may have prepared me for adversity in life, it sure didn’t aid in my opportunity to be physically active. In other words, physical activity shouldn’t be a “maybe” in our students’ school day. It should be exciting, inclusive, upbeat, and a mandated part of every child’s actual curriculum written by individuals well versed in how to write such a curriculum.

Hence, removing quality physical education - a place that provides activity at levels of health benefit in a wide variety of environments - could be very harmful to students’ health in the long term.

3. Coaches may or may not be certified educators.

I have three degrees in physical education (BScPE, MSc, PhD). I can assure you, there is a lot to 21st century PE. I will admit, traditional physical education was old school, didn’t offer valid assessments, etc. The good news is that through decades of research, teacher education programs in physical education have undergone a 180. Thank goodness! Quality physical education, taught by certified specialists, sets students up best to develop as physically literate people.

Coaches are almost always well intended people who are very passionate about their sport. I love sport. I had some incredible coaches who weren’t educators in the formal sense. But, sport is different that PE and all will benefit from education related to teaching PE and coaching. School sport coaches may not have any background in teaching, may have no coaching certification, and more than likely will have no knowledge of the national physical education standards. So, while we appreciate these individuals very much - they are often pillars in our communities - it doesn’t make them specialist physical educators.

So what is quality 21st Century Physical Education?

  • Quality physical education teaches students about their health related physical fitness. By the time students complete high school, quality PE affords them the skills to assess their own physical fitness, set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals related to their physical fitness, and modify and/or maintain behavior related to their goals.
  • Quality physical education reinforces classroom content. Physical educators don’t teach classroom content in lieu of their own curricular outcomes, they bring classroom material so that students who struggle in those areas, find more meaning in their learning. This is also done to support those students who are kinesthetic learners – those who learn better while moving.
  • Quality physical education differentiates instruction, uses assessment to guide instruction, and welcomes students with disabilities to learn and grow in their physical literacy.
  • Quality physical education teaches students how to be good citizens, utilize respectful language, and connects physically active experiences to life outside of school.
  • Quality physical education is culturally responsive and provides opportunities for students to explore not only their heritage, but the heritage of those in the community.
  • Quality physical education does not believe in down time. Students don’t stand while a physical educator speaks – they perform an activity that will impact their health related physical fitness (i.e., plank, boat, wall sit, partner balances) while they converse about the important cognitive materials covered.
  • Quality physical education provides opportunity for students to sweat. Cardiovascular activities occur at least three days a week (preferably five) at moderate to vigorous intensities so students can receive health benefit. That’s not all. The research suggests that such action will increase their learning readiness (their optimal readiness to learn). Want more info? Check out Harvard Professor and Medical Doctor, Dr. John J. Ratey’s book on the topic.
  • Quality physical education is innovative. Technology is used to enhance the learning environment for students. Technology lives in quality PE in the form of heart rate monitors, Apps for goal setting and personal fitness, music, assessment (iPads, etc.), GPS devices for geocaching and the list goes on…

Over 20 years ago I embarked a journey to help students grow to be healthy, happy, and productive citizens. I feel strongly that offering sport credit in lieu of quality physical education taught be a certified educator is like offering a book club after school in lieu of English class taught by a certified educator.

In the state of MO, I am not qualified to teach physical education in the public schools until I take two undergraduate classes (US History, US Government) despite my three degrees in the discipline. Now, the same state is proposing that students can opt out of my high school PE course if they play on an after school soccer team which may be coached by a local college student? There is nothing wrong with the college student, or her/his coaching the high school team. What’s wrong is an assumption by politicians that the two are the same.

It makes no sense.

We live in a time where today’s youth have a lower life expectancy than their parents for the first time (Journal of American Medical Association, 2005). Rather than try to make an easy decision and cut opportunities to promote healthy behaviors in schools, we should be working tirelessly on how to adopt a statewide Health Promoting Schools Initiative.

When our citizens are healthy, strong, productive, and have a good mind set - they will take less sick days, they will be creative, they will make MO a better place for all of us to live. For more information on Health Promoting Schools, please visit World Health Organization’s link here.

Okay. I gotta run (literally).

Have a healthy, active week and thanks for stopping by and commenting on this post!

How about you?
Are all your student athletes active enough for health benefit?

Does your sport offer a wide variety of physical activity experiences for learners?

  • Jane

    Lots of great info here worth sharing. Hopefully some of what you shared here will be used by others as we continue to push politicians to recognize PhysEd as a valuable part of the core curriculum.

    • astanec

      Thank you so much, Jane! If we all do our part to educate those on what it is that we work tirelessly to do, I think we’ll be in good shape. Especially if we are viewed as positive contributors to a health promoting school environment. :) I really appreciate your taking the time to comment on the post.Warmly,


  • Alasdair

    Very interesting piece and many of your points I find myself in agreement with.However I am slightly curious. Here is a situation that you would want to find yourself in presumably – each of your pupils gets 1 hour of PE per day. Are you saying that none of this time would be dedicated to the teaching of sport?

    • astanec

      Hi Alasair,Thanks for your comment. I am not at all saying that modified sport experiences don’t belong as party of a comprehensive physical education curriculum. They absolutely do. I do not advocate for adult versions of these sports, in most instances, however. I prefer small sided, modified rules in order to maximize opportunity for practice and in turn increase success of all students. The main point in this is as that as awesome as sport is, it fails to fully physically educate students in our schools.

      I appreciate your reading the blog and taking time to comment! It was a great question and I should have been clear about this point in the post. :)



  • Alasdair

    Hi,Yeah I see where you are coming from there then.

    We have found great success in raising engagement and activity levels both in and out of school through adopting a Sport Education model for PE. However, you are absolutely right – this is not sport, but modified versions of competitive sporting activities. Where sport tends to adopt a win at all costs mantra, our messages are vastly different and I do think themes of inclusion and tolerance of the less able are important parts of a physical education programme!!!

    It would be interesting to see longitudinal studies of the pattern of physical activity for people when they leave school. Is it those who join sports teams early in life that stay active or is it exposure to the health agenda that filters people into lifelong health and exercise. If you have any research on this topic I would be really interested in reading it!

    Many ThanksAlasdair

  • Sydney Satoski

    I would agree with Amanda Stanec that participation on a sports team should not count as a physical education credit. My main reason for saying this is that physical activity is a nice break from classroom settings and has proven to be a huge stress reliever in my personal experience. If we allow students to not take a PE course in school, they will be in classrooms, sitting down, for their entire day. They will become monotonous members of their school society, just going through the same motions all day. Give them a chance to run around, learning valuable life skills, and suddenly they will be re-energized and ready to learn for the rest of the day. Having a hard day? Go to PE and work through that stress and learn to get rid of it in a healthy, positive way. Participation in a sport is great, I absolutely loved it in high school, but it does not take the place of PE.

  • Kasey Kaisershot

    Ms. Stanec makes some excellent points when it comes to earning credits from participating in sports rather than taking a physical education class. In my high school in Illinois, we were mandated to take a PE class every semester, but we were exempt from this if we played a varsity sport. I remember it was a huge deal when the state decided that participating in band also fulfilled this requirement due to all the marching they do at practice!

    Although I was involved in varsity sports my junior and senior year of high school, I still chose to take PE classes. I always felt it was a nice break from the day to be physically active, and, just as Ms. Stanec mentioned, there are many times during sports practices and games where there isn’t much physical activity (I played softball, so during games, there were short bursts of activity, followed by a lot of standing). PE, specifically the weight lifting classes I took, helped me to stay active for a set period of time and learn about keeping myself healthy and active, both of which I didn’t learn as much from athletics.

    At the same time, I do see why states would allow sports to take the place of PE credit. With practices and games every day after school, students have less time and energy to focus on school work. By exempting the students from PE, that opens up an additional time that students can take a study hall to catch up on school work, or an art or music class that will challenge their brains in a different way than the traditional academic classes. This is definitely a tricky subject to navigate, but I think Ms. Stanec’s points are very valid, and I appreciate her desire to promote physical education within schools.

  • Kayla Lubkert

    This was a big controversial issue when I was in high school. I ran cross country and played lacrosse so I was in favor of those counting as my PE class because I was an active teammate in both sports. Now after reading this article I have changed my stance on this issue. He made a good point that just because a student is on a sport team that doesn’t mean that they are learning the skills necessary for living an active and healthy lifestyle, beyond their short time in high school playing sports. Unless students are going to play sports professionally for their career, most people need to learn how to integrate physical activity into their daily routines, not just think of it as only playing sports for an hour. He also made another valid point about students who are on teams, but they never get a chance to play. These students get their physical activity during practices, but during games only watch and support their teammates, which can cause a little bit of self-esteem issues because they are always on the bench. Letting those students learn about physical activity during PE would be much more beneficial than only being on the team.

  • Daniella Alexandria Ferreira

    This is a very interesting topic to speak about
    and I think both sides of the topic have valid arguments. The first
    thing that came to my mind are athletes who don’t play as much as the
    starters. If a team player is spending most of their season on the
    bench, I don’t think it is
    fair that they receive gym credit for wearing a jersey. Although sport
    teams strive to have good team work, the quality of teamwork in both
    instances are different. I think PE in school is a great time to
    socialize and build friendships with others outside of your basketball
    team. Also, if coaches are not certified, how do we know the athletes
    are receiving the correct physical activity compared to those in the gym
    class. A coach who is not certified goes with what they think is best
    for the team to WIN! The goal in their eyes is to win while the point in
    the gym teacher’s eyes to promote physical literate individuals.