Physical Education: Why Do We Make Kids Move?

Physical Education is losing traction everywhere in the United States, and this is probably a good thing. But let’s back up a little. . .


Physical Education should be the balanced presentation of physical challenges. These challenges are scalable and designed to create a healthy and capable human beingThey are new and varied and produce opportunities for failure.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 43 of Gray Cook Radio


However, it is assured that the failure is manageable. Not only is the failure manageable, but there is an educational path for the student to uncover—a well-planned feedback loop.

The answers are not given, but they are just below the surface. With higher degrees of physical skill acquisition, greater challenges can be imposed, both to physical problem solving and physical strength.

Today’s environments offer asymmetrical challenges to the organisms that inhabit it. A physical presence is no longer necessary to be successful. However, a physical presence is necessary to be a balanced human being.

Balanced human beings do not need to rob from one activity to strengthen another. That only happens when the strength is achieved in an unnatural and unbalanced way. Challenges in every area build the whole in ways far greater than their singular effects.

Back to where I began . . . Physical Education is losing traction everywhere in the United States, and yes, I said it’s probably a good thing.

Physical Education is dying because it fails to meet its goal: physical independence. Dr. Ed Thomas calls it physical literacy, tying it in to education as a whole.

Why do we make kids add? Why do we make kids read? So that they can develop these essential skills in a way that they will continue to use them to benefit their lives.

But, why do we make kids move?

Think of Physical Education in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Most of the people who were introduced to Physical Education in these decades do not currently know how to manage their health and fitness independently. Many are overly dependent on others for basic health and fitness fundamentals.


It didn’t work.

What was the result of Physical Education early in their lives? Was it designed to promote physical independence and pro-active behavior to manage both health and fitness across a life span?

Or introduce somebody to the different sized balls that can be used in various sports?

If we invoke the best definitions of play, practice and train, we will see that early in life, play is the majority of our activity.


PPT400PlayHowever, most of that play is natural and instructional. It is instructional through failure and often accompanied by pain when falls, cuts, scrapes and bruises occur. Play is also interesting later in life, when retirement (hopefully) brings free time. We are again visited by pain, but not as we engage our environment. The pain is already therebecause of our unmanaged health, play is no longer an option.

Play, the one thing that could probably restore the body into a more harmonious balance and blend is not accessible, because pain alters motor control in an inconsistent and unpredictable way.

The same pain that is instructional early in our life as our environment hones our movement begins to creep back into our life. We choose not to manage it in a harmonious and balanced way. We suppress it, and by suppressing it, we ignore the signal. By ignoring the signal, inefficiency, dysfunction and disability impress their forces upon us. They mold our structure and break down our function.

If this unnatural process happens in a slow consistent manner, we barely realize the erosion that’s occurring. Then one day, an ability that we saw we had in a snapshot or a video is no longer available to us. The memory of it is crisper in the picture than it is in your head.

You lost the ability to move.

Somehow we got into fitness, sports performance, weight-loss, general physical preparedness, tactical training and all other forms of physical conditioning that are focused more on physical appearance than physical function. Had we focused on function, we would not see a consistent, unchallenged functional problem across the landscape in both health and fitness.

exercise bottle

. . . and call me in a month.

If exercise were the beneficial supplement that it’s supposed to be when life’s activity does not create balanced fitness, then why does it create such unfortunate side-effects?

Exercise itself is now a risk factor for injury! People who participate in more exercise are more frequently injured.

We could argue that they had more exposure and therefore that exposure would make them consistently more injured. Even if we count for exposure, I still think we see that movement behavior, when unmanaged and unrefined, could actually be bad instead of good.

That’s right, moving often before you move well could be problematic.

Why? Name one other physical attribute or activity that should have loads impressed and stress impressed on it when it’s not in harmonious balance. Our systems can actually thrive on stress once they are balanced and functioning well. But if they are stressed when they are not balanced and not functioning well, they can actually be challenged for too long, damaged beyond repair, or broken altogether.

Medical science has developed a battery of vital signs that does not involve movement. Why don’t we treat movement the same way we do other body systems?

We realized the importance of blood pressure 100 years before we had the ability to reliably and practically test it . We’re currently at a place in time where we can compartmentalize movement problems consistently and effectively. The skill set can be possessed at all levels of fitness education, and there are healthcare and performance models intimately attached.

The System is designed to generate movement health as a foundation on which movement fitness can be built . . . and movement fitness is the stuff of which physical education is made.

So why no movement vital sign? We can’t afford to continue to get this wrong.

Here’s how Dr. Ed Thomas gets it right:

To be continued. . .sign up for the feed (top right) to receive the next article in your inbox.


For related thoughts, see:

A Glimpse into a Better Future

Play, Practice, or Train

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon

Speak Your Mind