Should Student Athletes Have to Take PE?

should athletes have to take gymReprinted from May 2015

The other night, my daughter Madelyn (13), was lying on the couch, and said, “Ugh. I have gym first period tomorrow.” My initial reaction was to tell her to stop complaining — I have a very low tolerance for whining. But, then I thought about it.  She was exhausted from a day of lacrosse games, her legs so sore, she could barely walk up the stairs. I wouldn’t want to put on gym clothes first thing in the morning either. Then, I wondered why she needs to be taking PE at all. She played soccer in the fall and spring, basketball in the winter, and lacrosse in the spring. She has at least four practices and games per week. Certainly, this is enough — possibly too much — exercise for a growing girl.

As a physician, with a specific concern for the obesity epidemic in our country, I value physical education. It is not only critical to the health of our kids, it is a great way to blow off steam, give the mind a break and teach kids the value of exercise. Madelyn starts high school next year, and is hoping to play for the school soccer team. She will have practice every day after school. She will also have a full course load. I don’t know the answer, but I do want to ask the question. Is an hour of PE a day, when her sport is in season, valuable or overkill?

I’m late to the discussion, as many others are already questioning the benefit of PE for student athletes. Some schools allow their athletes to opt out of gym entirely. Others give them the option to skip a few during season. Those in favor of less gym for athletes, argue too much activity can lead to injury and exhaustion, it is potentially detrimental to performance in the student’s sport, and the time can be better spent.

Those who think athletes should be required to take as much Phys Ed as everyone else argue that they are good role modes for the other students, it would be unfair to allow them to opt out and there is more to be gained from PE class than just the physical activity.

I am willing to listen to the other side, but at this point, if my child plays a high school sport, I would love for her to be able to use PE time for something else. I don’t think she should be able to skip when she feels like it, as this does have a feeling of special treatment. Rather, I want her to be able to use that time for studying or homework, or be given other class choices during this time. There are so many subjects, which could enforce her overall knowledge of and experience with health and wellness, thereby achieving the same objectives as PE. Yoga and meditation are amazing practices for everyone, and can be especially useful for athletes. Anatomy and physiology, performance psychology, team building and pathophysiology in sports, just to name a few, are all courses which support a physically fit mind and body.

Again, I respect the importance of physical activity as part of a student’s academic experience. But, with only so many hours in the day, might it not be better to avoid redundancy?

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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Doctor, mom of five and founder of Tips From Town.