Superstars of Sports

Share the Benefits of Sports, Fitness, & P.E.

04/23/2015  |  By Mike May in collaboration with Herschel Walker, Tamika Catchings, Stan Smith, Steve Smith, Gary Player, Michele Smith, and Johnny Miller

(Special exclusive to SEEN Magazine)

Physical Education is on “life support” in too many American schools, which is impacting quality of life and overall health in this country. When school administrators cut expenses to balance their budgets, P.E. is often one of the first classes to be cut. It should be the opposite.

Physical education needs to be maintained, if not enhanced. By not providing P.E. to school age children, there are many negative ramifications, but they are preventable and reversible.

National Security

According to Ret. Lt. General Mark Hertling (Commander of the U.S. Army in Europe from 2011-2013), the U.S. military is currently having difficulty getting recruits through boot camp because of a lack of physical activity in their lives as children.“These injuries to soldiers were caused by a lack of daily P.E. in their earlier lives,” states Hertling.

Stronger Academic Results

A recent study at the Legacy Charter School in Greenville, South Carolina found that daily physical activity is the key to maximizing academic achievement for students. The study revealed that students taking 45 minutes of daily P.E. improved their cognitive abilities by nearly 60 percent, compared to 25 percent for students of similar backgrounds in other schools who had just one period of P.E. a week.

General Public Supports P.E.

In a recent online poll, more than 13,000 Americans voted on the following question: “Should exercise be a daily core subject for students in all grades?” The overwhelming answer by 94 percent of the respondents was, “YES, bring P.E. back for all students. It is important for health and learning.” This survey was part of an NBC news article sighting research from the Institute of Medicine, which concluded, “Children need a full hour of exercise in schools every day, and not just in physical education classes.”

Lifetime Fitness Dividends

New research by the Physical Activity Council of 40,000 Americans shows children who do not have physical education are more than twice as likely to be totally sedentary outside school. And, children who have physical education are two to three times more likely to play sports and be active outside school than children without physical education.

Just for the Health of It

Dr. Steven Blair, professor of the Departments of Exercise Science and Epidemiology/Biostatistics at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, says “recent research revealed a higher percentage of deaths in our research population in the U.S. due to inactivity than from smoking, obesity and diabetes combined.” Blair acknowledges that Americans must get active if the status quo—80 million inactive Americans, i.e. the Inactivity Pandemic, is going to change. “I come from the P.E. establishment. We need physical education in our schools,” said Blair.

To further emphasize the value of P.E. in schools, a number of successful athletes are speaking out in support of daily physical education. The roots of every athlete’s success in sports can be traced to the physical education classes which he or she had as a young child and later as a teenager. The exposure to P.E. and some type of instruction from P.E. teachers has been the foundation for those athletes whose success in life can be attributed to their ability to catch, chase, kick, hit, pass or throw a ball of some kind. In those P.E. classes, people are taught the fundamentals of sports, the value of exercise, and the importance of a lifetime of daily physical fitness. Those lessons are just as important to average students as they are to promising student-athletes because the lessons learned are life-altering, in a positive way.

The Stars Of Sports Speak Out

Football legend Herschel Walker, WNBA superstar Tamika Catchings, tennis great Stan Smith, All-Pro NFL wide receiver Steve Smith, golfing great Gary Player, Olympic softball pitcher Michele Smith, and current TV golf commentator (and golf legend) Johnny Miller are convinced that having access to daily P.E. in school has played a huge role in their ability to succeed as pro athletes and to remain fit throughout their lives.

“Having a P.E. class in school gave me the confidence to become a great student,” says Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL running back Herschel Walker. “Today’s students deserve the chances that I had as a child growing up in Georgia.” Because of the health benefits of physical activity, Walker redefines physical education. He refers to it as “preventative health care.”

WNBA star Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever agrees with Walker’s train of thought. “Being physically fit will make an impact in the lives of all Americans. We need to get daily P.E. back in our schools.” Catchings says the status quo in society is not a pretty picture, especially from a national fitness perspective. She believes that schools have a chance to change the status quo by introducing daily P.E. programs for all students.

“Right now, physical education is not in a number of schools and the obesity rate is way beyond what it needs to be and what it used to be,” said Catchings. “After looking at all the (electronic) games today’s kids are playing — the Wii, the Xbox, the DSs, the Playstation, PSPs — we have to get these kids outside. As I look at my life, my childhood, and what I am doing today as a professional athlete, fitness is a huge component of my life - and why I am able to do everything that I do. The importance of fitness influences everything I do in life, on and off the basketball court.”

While tennis great Stan Smith is no longer competing for Grand Slam titles on the tennis circuit, he remains fit and focused on this issue and its impact on young people. “I am particularly interested in obesity and its effect on young people,” said Smith, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis champ. “If we can break that chain, then we can make some progress on this health issue. Promoting fitness will do just that.”

Current NFL star Steve Smith says one of the roots of the Inactivity Pandemic is that the lack of access to local, grassroots sports programs. “I think P.E. in schools is very important for our children, especially for impoverished children who don’t have access to local recreational sports programs.”

Golfer Gary Player says the roots of his active lifestyle can be linked to his days as a schoolboy in South Africa. “We’ve got to get the schools to bring in physical training — in fact, double it into schools,” says World Golf Hall of Famer Player, who starts his day with 1,000 sit ups in the morning. “If you do physical training, your grades will be better. It’s a proven fact. And you will live longer.”

Player also says that fitness positively influences a long life. “One of my great ambitions is to get this message across to the youth of the world that your body is a holy temple and you cannot do anything without health,” says Player. “You’ve got to get this ingrained within young people that health is number one.”

Fellow golfer Johnny Miller says that while P.E. is important, spending time in the Great Outdoors is vital for all children. “I think the big key for kids is to be outside, because if you are outside, the chances are pretty good that you will be active,” says Miller, the former U.S. Open and British Open golf champion. “Once they get inside the doors of their homes, they tend to get sedentary and they play with their video games and their phones.”

According to Miller, the key to reversing the Inactivity Pandemic is to get children to realize the many benefits of spending more time outside and less time behind closed doors. “It’s important to get people, especially kids, outside and have them fall in love with that experience,” noted Miller. “I was lucky in that I had an innate desire to run and play almost every sport. Everything was outdoors for me!”

Two-time Olympic softball gold medal winning pitcher Michele Smith says the building blocks of success for her in life were formed by P.E. teachers. “P.E. is an important class for school children,” said Smith, now a softball color commentator for ESPN. “Americans must get young people moving. Active children are more successful in the classroom and in life.”

Despite the fact that Smith is no longer playing fast-pitch softball at the highest level, she understands the importance of remaining active and fit in her daily life. “I work out every day, in some manner,” says Smith. “I still like to cycle as much as I can. I’m also a runner and I compete in triathlons. I’m always staying busy, healthy and active. I believe it’s extremely important. And, it sets such a great example for younger people.”

Organizational Support of National Fitness

A number of national organizations such as PHIT America, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, KIDS in the GAME and the American College of Sports Medicine are working together to encourage school administrators to incorporate fitness, physical activity, and physical education into the daily lives of all school children, whether they are future Olympians, national champions or regular, everyday people.

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