Whatever happened to PE?


With my friend Dr. Avery Faigenbaum — who most definitely keeps the physical in physical education.

Like many of us, I wear several hats.  My ‘day job’:  sports medicine specialist.  I also, however, have other work that consumes a great deal of time and energy and brings with it a great deal of joy and fulfillment.  I speak of my……’moonlighting job’?  My ‘real job’?

I speak of fatherhood.

I am a father to twins, thirteen years old, which turns out to be a great side gig to work as a pediatric sports medicine specialist.  My day to day interactions with my son and daughter are great preparation for my interactions in the clinic.  The skills I develop in my two ‘jobs’ complement each other.

As a father, I am reminded frequently of the differences between the schooling I enjoyed and the education my children are receiving. One of the striking differences is in the area of  non-academic offerings.  I went to public school as do they (and for my overseas friends, ‘public school’ here in the USA is the opposite of ‘private school,’ and is taxpayer funded education).  When I was their age, our school system offered typing, home economics (learning how to cook), ‘shop’ (learning how to saw, weld, etc.) and, most notably for this blog, daily physical education (otherwise known as PE, or ‘gym’).  My kids, on the other hand, have a different experience. I am delighted to see their school system offer them art and music opportunities I did not have (e.g. my son plays cello, my daughter plays viola). However, there is no typing, ‘home ec,’ or shop.

And, unfortunately, there is very little PE.

PE is not offered daily; in fact, it is offered only 25% of the days school is in session. That means more often than not a day at school is a day spent without scheduled activity!

This is not the first essay to bemoan the decline of PE in the American school system. Lest I seem myopic, please note that I can only comment on the system I know, the American one — I am hopeful that blog readers from the UK, Canada, Australia or beyond can share what occurs in schools in their countries. Perhaps the PE scene is different in other countries.

As I contemplate these issues, and as 2016 winds down, I wanted to share two items published in CJSM this year that relate directly to PE.

In July we published a novel study from Canada on a school-based, high intensity neuromuscular training (NMT) program.  The outcomes the authors looked at were injury rate reduction in sports and measures of improved physical fitness (waist circumference and aerobic fitness).  In both areas, the introduction of the school-based NMT training was successful.  I encourage you to check the study out yourself.

PE as a injury prevention intervention — what a great idea.

In response to this study, Dr. Avery Faigenbaum, a frequent fixture in these blog pages, wrote a letter to the editor, “Keeping the Physical in Physical Education.” He notes that “most modern-day youth appear to be ill-prepared for the demands of sports practice and competition.  School-based interventions taught by physical education teachers are ideal for reaching nearly all boys and girls.”

I share his concerns that modern-day youth are all to often ‘ill-prepared for the demands of sports practice.’ There is an epidemic of overuse injuries in my clinic, to be sure, but also an epidemic of acute, macrotraumatic events that certainly are happening much too regularly.  ACL injuries for instance.

As sports and exercise medicine specialists, invested in keeping kids and adults active and fit, we must get behind efforts to bring PE back into our schools.   These efforts will frequently take us out of our typical places of work — the clinic, the sidelines, the training rooms.

One effort I’m involved with is with the work I do for MomsTeam Institute.  How about you?  Would you share your story about an initiative in which you are involved that relates to PE in schools?  You could do so by Tweeting us @csjmonline, or responding to the comments below.  If you are an ‘overachiever,’ you can even contact me and volunteer to write a guest blog post.  Run your idea by me via the Twitter feed or in the comments section.

Let’s get the physical back in PE, and PE back in the daily lives of our kids.

About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

One Response to Whatever happened to PE?

  1. Kevin Waninger says:

    Last year I was doing requested school physicals at several grade schools in the area for those who requested a physical. I found two 2nd-grade students who were mildly overweight for their age (7yo) and were unable to “duck-walk” due to what I surmised was weak pelvic musculature. It is a problem, as these mildly obese young children (one male, one female) would probably not be as competitive at activities with their peers, thus perhaps making them less interested in sports and similar activities, and thus starting the spiral of less activity and increased obesity. I discussed good nutrition habits with their parents, and I was considering referring them to physical therapy for specific directed therapy at strengthening their musculature. I called a colleague who practices at a pediatric hospital and asked for his advice as per the actual wording of the physical therapy prescription. He explained to me that he sees this more often than he would like, and he recommended that instead of physical therapy, write the note to tell the parents to take the child to the park one hour a day several times a week. He recommended that the kids did not need PT, they needed jungle gyms, rope climbing, playful activities that allow children to develop naturally. Sometimes the family economics and inter-city home situation may not always be ideal for outdoor activities for kids, but it at least makes the point that fancy stuff is usually not necessary. I was looking for some fancy therapy, when actually all these kids need is to be allowed to be kids and run, jump, chase, etc. Because of family and neighborhood situations, sometimes school physical therapy classes are the only opportunity these kids have to experience the activities and exercises of childhood.

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