Student Well-Being

Former Olympian Writes About Benefits of Phys. Ed.

By Bryan Toporek — July 07, 2011 1 min read
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Vicki Huber Rudawsky, a former Olympic runner who competed in the 1988 and 1996 Summer Games, published a piece yesterday on lamenting the reductions to physical education programs nationwide that resulted from budget cuts.

Rudawsky says that teachers are meant to challenge students, and one of her first memories of being challenged in school came from 3rd grade gym class.

Years ago, few sports had organized teams, with Little League Baseball being really the only sport that started kids at a young age. School gym class was the only chance we had to figure out what our strengths and weaknesses were as athletes, and people. ... I learned how to take direction, handle criticism, be a good team player, fail, and to keep trying until I succeeded. As a parent, I completely understand wanting our children to feel good about themselves all the time. However, sometimes it is OK to fail. It's OK to only make it halfway up the rope and have your teacher encourage you to work harder next time. It's OK to not be good at something one day because chances were that the next class would bring something entirely different.

Rudawsky’s point about failure speaks to something I wrote about recently: the importance of coaches promoting a mistake-accepting culture for their student-athletes. With emerging research showing that humans learn quicker after making a mistake (as opposed to practicing a correct routine repeatedly), phys. ed. classes are one rare instance in the school day where kids can make mistakes with few negative side effects. Tanking an English or math test, on the other hand? Not so much.

Between promoting physical fitness and emphasizing the importance of failure in the learning process, phys. ed. programs contain values that aren’t yet being captured in most other subjects.

As Rudawsky concludes:

It is a shame that the physical education programs in schools have been cut so much, and that physical education teachers are not as highly recognized as others in the teaching profession. Sometimes we fail to realize that it is the less-respected things in life that impact us the most.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.