Physical Education and Club Soccer

A quick look at the evolution in sports education

How do children learn to play sports, team sports and specifically soccer? Historically there are three ways; on their own, in a club or academy or in school.

  1. On their own. Street soccer. We’ve already examined the loss of this avenue. Sam Snow, Gary Allen and others have already observed that kids simply don’t play pick-up games. While this form has long been recognized as the best method for children to learn all of the basic demands, skills and ideas of the game, choosing this path is very difficult, if not impossible. Our Festival programs are an effort to make street soccer available and give the game back to the kids.
  2. Club or Academy. Pay-to-play. Since the early 1970’s club programs have taken the lead in youth soccer education. The Club/League system in America is unique. No other country has our bottom to top form of organization and control. Overall, it provides huge obstacles to youth education and the development of talent. Some say, justifiably, that players develop in spite of, not because of their club. This link has some valuable information on club organization. The Olympic Development Program and the US Soccer Development Academy are examples of National Programs to help the elite players.
  3. Public School Physical Education.  Your tax dollars at work and the traditional home of athletic/sports education. With the introduction of No Child Left Behind and other social factors the physical education departments have been put under considerable stress. The time allowed for physical activity in class and recess has, overall been drastically reduced nationwide. Furthermore the emphasis on team and competitive sports has given way in favor of "Lifetime sports." These are usually individual activities aimed at the nations growing health and self-esteem problems.

In the past the three overlapped and supported each other. Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken credits the time spent playing soccer in loosely organized leagues with developing the leg strength necessary to play short stop and pick up basketball with helping him sharpen his competitive drive. Eddie Pope is another example of someone that benefited from a varied upbringing in club, school and pick up sports.

A change in one has an effect the others. The following look’s at how some of the recent changes in PSPE are having a subtle effect on children’s soccer development.

Changing classroom

Physical education has not always been a part of the public school system. In the early days recess, free play on the play ground was the way children learned games. They would improvise and settle on ones that appealed to them like crack-the-whip, dodge ball, tag, climbing on things, using whatever was available. In the late 1800’s educators started seeing the importance of PE and began dedicating resources, facilities and trained adults to lead the process.

In the past 35 years much has changed. Title IX, co-ed classes, a population growth that the facilities and staffing have not kept pace with, increasing health problems like asthma and obesity, listen to NPR, the influx of different cultures through immigration, No Child Left Behind and a new focus on the individual. The following are some audio clips that illustrate the problems that PSPE face and some of their solutions.


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All Things Considered, May 13, 1998 · NPR’s Tom Goldman reports that physical activity guidelines have been issued for the first time for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Educators and physical education experts are becoming increasingly concerned about the sedentary lifestyle of American teens and adults. The experts say "let kids be kids" and are recommending 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day.

Gym Classes Lack Significant Activity

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Morning Edition, September 20, 2006 · The National Association of Sport and Physical Education says middle and high school kids should get 45 minutes of gym a day. But no matter how often kids attend gym, it turns out they aren’t moving around much anyway. Cornell University researchers found that when it comes to gym, kids are active for an average of 16 minutes per class. The study doesn’t say what they are doing the rest of the time.

Schools Reconsider Focus on Elite Sports

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Morning Edition, December 22, 2004 · In New York City and other school districts, educators concerned about childhood obesity are beginning to rethink the way they go about physical education. They worry schools are placing too much emphasis on elite, competitive sports at the expense of the physical fitness of all students. Nancy Solomon reports.

New-School Phys-Ed.: Aerobics, No Sports

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Weekend Edition Sunday, May 23, 2004 · NPR’s Tom Goldman reports on an Illinois junior high school’s successful new take on physical education. The classes place a higher priority on aerobic exercise and the health benefits of regular work-outs over organized sports. Still, schools statewide are balking at adopting the new approach.

Revamping Physical Education

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Talk of the Nation, March 16, 2004 · NPR’s Neal Conan and guests discuss the health of children in U.S. schools and look at how physical education is changing.

Charlene Burgeson
*Execitive director, The National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

The evolution of PSPE has even embraced 21st century technology. With the emphasis on individual activities some Minnesota and Florida school districts are allowing students to take PE on-line. Without doubt, the problems facing the PSPE staff of today are not the same of 30 years ago. Naturally they will call for different solutions and ways of thinking.

None the less, these factors influence how today’s youth club coaches need to plan. You cannot count on having children with free play experience. Nor being exposed to a PE program that teaches the basics of team athletics. PE activities like rock climbing, roller blading, exercise bicycles and step aeorbics don’t lend themselves to rough and tumble play. Coaches need to be aware of what type of physical education experience the kids have had and plan accordingly.