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P.E. Done Right Can Improve Physical Fitness, Academic Performance and Reduce Behavioral Problems

By Ken Reed

In a new video report from The Atlantic, physical education programs in our nation’s schools are criticized.

Some of the criticism is justified, most notably in cases where the P.E. teacher simply rolls out the ball and allows the students to play games without any short-term or long-term wellness objectives. Criticism is also deserved for P.E. programs that allow humiliating activities like Dodgeball.

However, this video doesn’t look at P.E. at its best. It simply focuses on the negatives of less-than-optimal PE programs.

Regular (ideally daily) cardio-vascular-based PE programs, like the ones I talk about in my book “Game Changer” can definitely improve fitness levels, while also improving academic performance and reducing behavioral problems.

The best way to fairly evaluate all P.E. students — athletically-inclined and not athletically-inclined — is to use heart rate monitors. This helps teachers evaluate kids based on their effort, not performance. For example, by using heart rate monitors, P.E. teachers might discover that the most athletic kid in class might not be working as hard as the least athletic kid. The athletic kid may not be getting his/her heart rate up to the ideal heart rate zone during a mile run, while the non-athletic kid might be in the ideal heart rate zone despite finishing last in the mile.

With the use of heart rate monitors, each student can be graded on effort and improvements made toward personalized physical fitness goals, regardless of athletic ability, or current levels of fitness at the beginning of the semester. The athletic student who doesn’t push him-or-herself in class might actually deserve a C grade, while the slower, non-athletic student could earn an A grade.

The heart rate monitor can be used for all P.E. activities, not just the mile run, to determine how hard students are working during class activities. For example, during 3v3 soccer games, tennis matches, or physical activities like climbing.

According to former physical education teacher Phil Lawler, the primary subject of “Game Changer”:

“[a quality physical education program is] about enabling each student to maintain a physically active lifestyle forever. It means emphasizing fitness and well-being, not athleticism. It eliminates practices that humiliate students. And it assesses students on their progress in reaching personal physical activity and fitness goals. A [quality] program exposes kids to the fun and long-term benefits of movement — it’s really that simple.”

Simple, but sadly not the reality in too many physical education programs around the country today.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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