Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk? They have this bouncy, rolling gait as its system learns about balance and movement. It’s not effortless, but there’s no sense of struggle either. It’s open and easy with a beautiful sense of flow. And then, at the first sign of trouble, they just sit down. You can almost see their brains processing the data, then they are up and moving again. Recalibrating and making corrections as they totter down the carpet. When did we lose that? That love of movement and willingness to explore? When did we become reluctant participants in physical activity?
For many, it goes back to middle school. As puberty began for some and not for others, our bodies began to look and function differently. Our ability to run, jump and play became as different as our complexions and voices. As we were becoming unique individuals, schools were busy teaching us conformity. And one of their greatest weapons in the battle for conformity was gym class.
Back in my day, we had those awful gym uniforms. Baggy shorts, school t-shirts and, believe it or not, jockstraps. We’d play sports, it didn’t matter if you could play or wanted to play. You were expected to play. If you couldn’t hit a softball, too bad. If you were slow and didn’t like soccer, too bad. Act out, and they made you run laps. For many, it became the most hated hour of the school day. Imagine that. For many kids, the most hated hour of the school day was going outside to play.
Probably the worst part was how they measured success: the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. It comprised the mile run, and two-minute sit-up, push-up, and pull-up tests. The more you could do, the higher your grade was. Physical maturity was never considered, nor was body type or any other thing that makes us unique. If you couldn’t do it, well, you didn’t pass. I still have a certificate of achievement for doing well on that test, signed by President Jimmy Carter. I have a similar certificate for maxing my physical fitness test when I was in the Army. Essentially, it was the exact same test. These are the tests that they use to determine the physical fitness of our military and it is nearly the same test they use to measure our children fitness level today.
For many of us, the struggle with exercise and movement that we develop in school follows us throughout life. For example, my daughter, who’s 23 now, received a C in gym class the fall semester of 7th grade. When I asked her why, it turned out that she couldn’t run a pass pattern. They were playing flag football and they were tested on the ability to run certain pass patterns. She couldn’t do it, and she received an F for that segment of class. She asked me why running a pass pattern was important enough to give her a C in PE? I really had no answer for her. I didn’t get it either. I do know that it really upset her though. I also know that to this day, she still hasn’t developed a healthy relationship with exercise and movement. It’s like a part of her said, If that’s what I have to do to fit in, then no thank you.
Overcoming a negative relationship to exercise and movement can be extremely challenging. Doing it with the current athletic model can make it nearly impossible. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be looking at the relationship of struggle and the athletic model.