Most people recognize that the purpose of a physical education period is to keep students in shape. Although many students find gym to be a convenient way to develop healthy exercise habits, not all students experience the benefits that make gym an essential part of one’s school schedule. In fact, the group that this often does not apply to are those that one might expect would most benefit: athletes.
Many may recall observing fellow classmates who give little effort during the 45 minute gym period. At first thought, one might associate such individuals with those who are not athletic, but surprisingly, this falls mostly upon athletes. Since athletes already receive vigorous workouts, many find little need to make the best out of gym class. Due to exhaustion from the previous night’s practice, or fear of wasting energy before an upcoming game, many athletes claim that gym is not a reasonable use of their time. More specifically, those involved in sports often find gym to be redundant, since they feel they do not need class to stay fit. In fact, because student athletes are consistently active, some may over exert themselves, thereby negatively affecting their performance in practices and games when needed the most. Therefore, the efforts put towards acquiring a good grade, paired with the competitive nature of athletes, causes individuals to push themselves past their limit, even making injury a possibility.
An additional assumption that people make about gym class is that it relieves stress. However, an athlete’s underlying source of tension is most often from trying to balance the workload of classes while participating in sports. While gym simply attempts to reduce stress by providing students with a mental break, a much more productive way to use this time would be to substitute the physical education class with a free period, to more or less try to remove the cause of stress all together. Since important concepts could still be emphasized in health class, this would let athletes focus on academic subjects, since practices and games already take time away from studies. Even the current girls Junior Varsity basketball coach, Mr. Johnson, believes that “gym can often be overkill. It would make much more sense for athletes who already utilize strength and conditioning to not have to participate in gym. But, if it is a sport that does not, then those athletes would actually still benefit from the class.” This system could be determined by a minimum amount of time to be dedicated to physical activity through participation in a sport every week. If they satisfy the level of activity expected of them, the student could be exempt from gym. This free period would only last for the duration of the season that they are fulfilling the need to exercise, so that during the off-season, they will be expected to take part in gym. This promised free period may even encourage more students to become involved in sports. In this way, individuals would become more active and healthy, which is what gym encourages anyway.
Typically over scheduled, athletes often face difficulty managing their responsibilities in a timely manner. In comparison, non-athletes have more flexibility in how they decide to use their time. While a free period to complete academic work would provide athletes with the time that is currently available to non-athletes after school, it may not actually give athletes an advantage. Nonetheless, even though such a system would allow student-athletes to be more focused and prepared, there is no fair way to decide which students can or cannot be exempt from gym; some may criticize a system where not all students are treated equally, if they believe that athletes are granted certain privileges.
Even so, the benefits that individuals obtain from gym can not be ignored. Gym not only helps individuals create a proper workout plan and learn the correct way to lift, but allows students to interact in ways that a classroom can not offer. In addition to increasing knowledge and positive attitudes, athletes work with people who are not just their teammates, while also setting examples for other students. Frank Giannantonio, an RHS trainer and strength and conditioning teacher believes that athletes should always have to participate in gym, for the reason that “very few sports involve the aerobic system since most sports are anaerobic in nature, so as a result, aerobic metabolism for proper recovery and restoration are not addressed.” Moreover, Frank shared that “most sports do not utilize the weight room appropriately, so they do not address certain concepts of motor development, incorporate hip mobility or flexibility, which gym does address.” And to those that raise the concern that run days exhaust individuals before their practices or games, Frank argues that “the best thing that a person can do before an athletic event is go on a twenty minute run. It actually brings the body to homeostasis for competition. Furthermore, it is good for critical thinking on game day situations.”
Gym is not always seen as necessary to the school day, especially considering the multiple ways that it can negatively impact athletes who are always expected to give their best performance. In fact, the main concepts that gym encourages such as exercise, leadership, communication skills, and teamwork are well developed by participation in sports. Nonetheless, even though lifelong healthy habits are most often instilled outside of school, physical education is the one period of the day that guarantees students to interact in ways unlike any other class, and that can not be ignored.
Graphics: Erin Kim