Minimizing Sport in Physical Education

featured photo credit:


I’ve had the good fortune to work at an arts school the last eight years.  The students, many disenfranchised with Physical Education in the past, were open and willing to trying different things.  I’m not sure if they realized it or not, but our warmups and explorations got longer and longer and our time playing sports got shorter and shorter.  The only complaints I got came from the athletes.  They were quite uncomfortable slowing down and internally playing attention.  This is why they played sports — to get our of their head and partake in games that made everything else seem small.

I’m taking on a much larger population next year, and with it, many more differing attitudes about thinking in a class commonly equated with recess.  If the question of, “What are we learning today?” replaces “What are we playing today?” I’ll know the experiment worked.  Reducing Physical Education to rolling-out-the-ball also reduces me to keeper-of-the-equipment.  Neither seem like a suitable use of energy nor time.  It’s a disservice to everyone involved.  My job is not to get kids to move.  My job is to get kids to appreciate the adaptability of the body.  Do that, and we’ll get a generation of young people who choose to keep moving long after it’s mandatory.


To teach is to foster independent thinking and action of the learner.


The goal is to make kids want to move.  I believe an effective teacher makes themselves unnecessary.  You create the environment, offer up some tools, and turn them loose.  What happens after you give them control determines whether you’ve been successful.

By the time kids get to high school, students already know how to play sports.  They know the rules, are familiar with equipment used, and only really need help formulating teams.  Again, Physical Education could be so much more than a social construct.  Make it about individuals and the individuals’ journey, and everyone can be the hero.  No one gets picked last when the practice is developing the self.


A T H L E T E O R A R T I S T // As a kid, I spent hundreds of hours in play, emulating my favorite NBA athletes – Michael, Iverson, Penny, Reggie, Hakeem. Looking back, I held little interest in the actual game. I connected with the expressions of movement, the seamless balance of fluidity and explosiveness. Competition and structure just felt like limitations to the creative landscape. “Athlete” is not an identity that has ever suited me. All along I’ve been an artist inside an athlete’s body. Movement is my medium. A seemingly simple realization years in the making. A shift into alignment that has unlocked a new universe of possibilities. #knowyourself #fucktherules #doyou #create #makeyourownlane #ballin #playground #love #movementparallelslife

A video posted by Kellen Milad (@mke_free_mover) on


We always begin each class with group movement.  To offer some context and purpose, I relate the thematic body part or motion to the sport unit we are in.  Keeping with current tradition, the curriculum is still broken down into chunks of traditional game play.  (This compromise conveniently bridges the gap between the students’ expectations and mine.  Gradual change is more widely accepted, like sneaking in vegetables).  In basketball, I connect ankle injury (they present) to ankle mobility ( I present).  In baseball, hip and trunk rotation.  In football, shiftiness and change of direction.  When you explicitly explain why the movements are important and how they can make them better at a sport and/or keep playing longer, they’ll buy in.


The magic happens when they realize they’re actually investing in themselves.


I’m in the business of making better people, not just better athletes.  Their feet need to be more important than their shoes, and their joints and well-being needs to be valued higher than how many points they score.  These are the lessons that I hope that they learn.

I am their guide more than their cheerleader, and certainly not their drill sergeant.  When I lead them through a movement, I describe what I am feeling so they can compare.  I point out options they can try, regressions or progressions so they can find the most suitable level of challenge.  They learn to self-assess and choose their own route.  It is a mindful endeavor of discovery and exploration.  The result is that they end up knowing more about themselves, what their limitations are, and what they can do to help bring up these deficiencies.

Last year’s beloved 3rd period.  Always so willing to give things a go.


When sport is all you know it’s all you believe there is.  Making the unknown known is the essence of education.  Kids that see and hear bodies get put before game play start to understand which holds greater significance.  In learning to help themselves, they’re more equipped and more willing to help others.  Class becomes cooperative instead of cutthroat, and suddenly even the most reluctant are compelled to try.  There aren’t any teams to beat or embarrassments to avoid, just joints and patterns to figure out.  Lifelong learners wonder and are curious.  They move and keep moving because they respect what their bodies can do, and are intrigued by what they are capable of.

2 thoughts on “Minimizing Sport in Physical Education

  1. Lauren Schmidt
    Lauren Schmidt on

    This was a wonderful article. I am a first year health and pe teacher in high school and want to foster this type of environment. Are there any lesson plans I could reference? Any feedback would be much appreciated!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *