Kick The Habits

Too many of this country’s kids are fat. You know it, and I know it.

There are various reasons that we’re facing an obesity epidemic of super-sized proportions--and there are just as many solutions to the problem being contemplated.

One of the craziest is that implementing mandatory physical education (P.E.) classes in school is the magical waist-trimming, fat-erasing cure-all.

Not hardly.

For starters, putting the brakes on the out-of-control obesity crisis requires getting kids away from fast-food establishments where they’re cramming down 1,000-calorie meals packed with artery-clogging fat.

The Role Of P.E. Classes

As a former physical educator, I know that P.E.--in its purest context--is about teaching kids the value of keeping their bodies in good physical condition throughout their lives.

To think P.E.--in its current form--can wipe out obesity is foolhardy, especially when a whole group of folks simply roll out a ball and say, “Today we’re playing kickball.”

What needs to happen in schools across the country is to create programs that will give kids the opportunity to learn the basic skills of athletics, such as throwing, catching, kicking and hitting.

Just like someone starting out in music must be taught the basics before developing a love for playing an instrument, the same goes with sports.

Now, most P.E. teachers will say, “But I am teaching these skills.” However, throughout my career I have yet to see a systemized, standard program totally focused on teaching the basic skills necessary for athletic participation. If there is one, I would be happy to see it.

Why are these skills important? Because when children learn them, they recognize which ones they excel in, and will choose sports that emphasize those skills.

More than 30 million children will give organized sports a try around the country this year, yet a high percentage of them will endure frustration, be turned off, and eventually call it quits because they are sent out without learning the basic skills that the sport requires.

The Right Approach

Most of America’s P.E. teachers are a wonderful group of people who wish to provide a great service for kids in the limited--and I stress limited--amount of time they have with them each week. The instructors simply need to teach a few skills throughout the year, and then implement games for kids to practice these skills.

This way, when kids step on fields and courts, they have the confidence to perform them. Plus, they will gain more enjoyment from their participation. And they will more than likely want to continue playing.

In reality, what we really need is a standardized P.E. program--one that P.E. educators have a say in developing, and one that turns the focus to teaching kids the fundamentals that they’ll need for any sport.

This approach will make class time more relevant in several ways.

Kids will flock to your parks and recreation department to enroll in programs, make friends, develop a passion for sports and all its wonderful attributes and--who knows--maybe even want to get involved as a coach or official in the community when they get older.

And chances are they won’t become obese.

Yes, P.E. can make a difference if we simply come together and make some much-needed changes that will benefit our most important commodity-- kids.

It’s time we do away with the P.E. teacher that simply rolls a ball out to the kids and says, “Let’s play kickball today.”

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of Why Johnny Hates Sports, which is available on He can be reached via e-mail at