Moved to Move

47158_150773548281336_8366218_n-1I have always believed in the importance of physical education.  Movement has been an integral part of my own life since I was a child.  As I grew up, went to school, tried to figure out my life (still working on that) and eventually settled on a career in education, physical education was always at the forefront.  2013 marks my 20th year as a physical education teacher and after nine career “adjustments” (new positions, new schools, new degrees) over this time span, two constants have emerged: physical education and working with children and youth.  Despite this long term committed relationship with PE it is only very recently that I have made the leap from thinking PE is important to a fundamental belief in the absolute, critical, elemental, life-changing and life-giving need for human movement.

Currently, the two most common arguments shared for increasing daily physical activity and advocating for more physical education include benefits to health and academic performance.  Here’s a quick overview:

  • Health Benefits: physical activity: is the #1 treatment for fatigue; decreases anxiety by 48%; decreases diabetes by 50%; decreases knee arthritis by 47%; decreases depression by 47% (these stats are from Dr. Mike Evan’s brilliant video entitled 23 ½ hours – there are many, many more stats like this!).
  • Academic Benefits: a research brief summarizing the relationship between physical education, activity and academic performance includes these findings: reducing PE time to increase classroom time does not improve academics; increasing PE can lead to improved grades; active kids tend to perform better academically; activity breaks improve cognition and behavior.

Awesome.  The more ammunition we have to advocate for quality physical education the better.  These are all valid reasons that should not (although often they are…) be ignored.

There is, however, one problem.  A BIG PROBLEM.  When all the focus is on extrinsic or functional rationale we miss two very important aspects of movement itself.

Aspect #1: Movement for the sake of Movement! Movement can stand on it’s own – it has inherent worth and efficacy all by its lonesome.  Consider this quote:

People perceive in order to move and move in order to perceive.  What, then, is movement but a form of perception, a way of knowing the world as well as acting on it? (Thelen, 1995)

Movement is essential to who we are as human beings and is absolutely critical to growth and development across the lifespan.  For example: infants who averaged 41 days of creeping experience were more likely to avoid a “visual cliff” (plexi-glass covered drop-off) than infants with 11 days of experience (Witherington, et al., 2005).  At the other end of the spectrum, women over 80 years old who participated in a targeted exercise program (strength and balance) had significantly less falls than the 80 year-old women who did not (Campbell, et al., 1999).  The health and academic benefits are a great bonus, but are really just an extension of how movement is part of our human identity and helps us negotiate the treacherous terrain of life.  Therefore, education should not be considered “whole-child” unless it includes education of the physical.

Aspect #2: The Intrinsic Joy of Movement I was fortunate to be boarding in the Rockies on a day where a foot of fresh powder had just fallen.  As one of the first people up the lift, it was awesome to hear – from all across the mountain – spontaneous cries of joy from those reveling in the snow.  We need this joy!  As Scott Kretchmar writes:

When movement is experienced as joy, it adorns our lives, makes our days go better, and gives us something to look forward to.  When movement is joyful and meaningful, it may even inspire us to do things we never thought possible (2008)

Imagine the two kids (mine) in the picture at the beginning of this blog having the following conversation:

“So, I was thinking of increasing my cardiovascular fitness by paddling these buoyant tools in the ocean.”  “Great!  I’ll join you, I need to work on my core strength anyways.”  “Yup – lookin’ to reduce my co-morbidity”  “You got that right – I don’t wanna get diabetes.”

Bwahahahahahaha! I know it sounds funny to say it out loud, but this is often how we treat movement and physical education.  The fact is, kids (and adults!) are motivated by joy and will work / play extremely hard to find it.  As a bonus, they’ll also get all the health and academic benefits.  If you want to see an example of this ethic in action, go visit a skate park.  There you’ll see people finding joy in learning, intrinsic motivation at it’s best and not a trophy or rubric in sight (you’ll also most likely see me laying at the bottom of the half-pipe after attempting to ride the wall…).

Want to advocate for physical education?  Want healthier kids and a less sedentary society?  Become a spokesperson and model for the inherent worth of movement itself.  Be a joy-seeker and find ways to allow others to find their joy through movement as well. As for me, I am off to the skate park!

This post was done as a guest blog for ParticiPACTION.

Ol’ Yeller

20130304-194451.jpgOK – time for the first rant of my blogging career…  Why do we tolerate  / allow coaches (especially, but not exclusively, in school sport) to yell at youth?  Allow me to share the impetuses for my rant.

Exhibit#1: I was watching a junior high basketball game and the coach on the other team was a YELLER.  He YELLED (I am capitalizing to illustrate how frickin’ annoying YELLING is) at a lot of players through-out the game but one particular instance stands out for me.  One of the girls on his team was at least three feet taller than all the rest and as such was gathering in a substantial amount of rebounds.  Apparently, that was not quite good enough for the coach because he proceeded to YELL at her, “JUMP ALREADY! JUST JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! WHY WON’T YOU JUMP! AHH – WHY WON’T SHE JUMP?” The girl was obviously embarrassed, chagrined, uncomfortable, mortified, etc. but to her credit she kept smiling, albeit a little painfully.  Hmm, wonder how long she’ll stay in basketball…

Exhibit #2: A teenager I know tried out for, and made, the football team (for my non-North American friends I mean the kind with helmets) at his high school this year.  Despite an expressed interest and potential burgeoning love for a new sport – not to mention the fact that he is a bit of a beast and would do very well – he decided to not play for the team.  One of the main reasons was a coach who YELLED something very similar to the following, “WHAT THE F@$% WAS THAT? ONE MORE MISTAKE AND YOU ARE OUTA HERE! THERE IS NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES ON MY TEAM. GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME OR RIDE THE BENCH.”  Add this to a few racist slurs and I applaud this teenager’s decision not to play. Keep in mind that these words weren’t even directed at my teenage friend, but at another player on the field.

Let me make a few clarifications to the above exhibits and then close with two main thoughts.  Although I was in attendance at the basketball game, the words above are in no way to be considered a direct quote – only my remembrance of a vivid event.  I do not know if he was a teacher as well as a coach at the school.   The words of the football coach are from the teenager’s perception and, in his mind, accurately portray at least the spirit of the exchanges that went on at practice.  This coach is a teacher at the school.  Ladies, lest you think you are off the hook, it just happens that these two recent exhibits are men – ladies can be YELLERS too!

Thought #1: Does it strike anyone else as odd that while we would we never condone a teacher YELLING at our kids in a classroom, for some reason it becomes accepted in a gym / field setting?  “THAT’S A F@#&ING MULTIPLICATION SIGN NOT DIVISION! DROP AND GIVE ME 20 YOU MISERABLE EXCUSE FOR A MATH STUDENT!”. Weird.  Stupid.  Simply put, yelling (see, I stopped, it is that easy) does not work.  Yelling does not inspire performance.  Yelling does not show that we care. Yelling does not develop skill. Yelling does not build up our youth. Stop. Please.

Thought #2: So far, whenever I have shared the football story, people say, “Oh, but that is just the way football is.”  Really?  Football can operate in no other way than by demeaning and belittling youth with public humiliation and slander (@lifeisathletic – I’d love your thoughts here!)?  What a crock!  I love contact sports but can think of no reason why this mentality has to be the culture of football, rugby, hockey etc.  I know plenty of coaches in these types of sports who are very effective without being an Ol’ Yeller. Please, save the yelling for cheers and praise.

Waiting to be moved by your responses (but leave the megaphone at home…).