May 21, 2024

School sports in the USA: A playbook for reformers

From star of the school team to NFL star – this is the stuff of popular school sports in Hollywood. Here’s a scene from the movie “The Blind Side – The Big Chance.” (Alliance photo/DPA/Ralph Nelson/Warner)

This doesn’t happen often. But every few years, American scholastic sports provide Hollywood creatives with really good material. Like the story of a penniless black football player who becomes the star of his school team and later ends up in the NFL. The film version titled “The Blind Side – The Big Chance” grossed more than 300 million euros in 2009.

The environment of high school sports has inspired many cinematic dramas—often with the sport of football at the center. But also with basketball, baseball and wrestling. Which proves that school sports in the United States are very popular. This can be underscored with a simple number: six million young people – including a growing number of girls – participate in physical exercise offered in schools across the country. One million of them participate in athletics alone.

Study: Only 39 percent of high school students in the United States play sports

At second glance, the whole thing seems less positive: While more than 60 percent of students in northeastern Maine participate in afternoon programs, in Nevada the figure is just under 20 percent.

The Aspen Institute has also dealt extensively with scholastic sports in the USA in recent years. The Washington think tank, which deals with a wide range of social and political issues, also doesn’t give the U.S. school sports system a good report. Tom Farry, founder and director of “Sports and Society”, with the results.

“Only 39 percent of high school students play sports in this country. This means that most children do not have access to sports experiences. We have to find a way to include children who are excluded from this system. The American system certainly has many advantages, but there are some Deficiencies that need to be addressed.

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American politics viewed sports as a means of nation building

This finding also seems surprising because school sports began with a great deal of commitment shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century. All levels of politics worked together at the time, all the way down to the local level, where the taxes that fund America’s school system were raised. Includes construction and maintenance of gyms and sports fields.

Tom Farry: “This was envisioned by President Teddy Roosevelt and his contemporaries, who saw sports as a way to build the nation. This education also includes physical training. The challenge today is that the newer schools, often smaller private schools, are not investing. In the facilities, they are taking over Buildings in shopping malls, for example, they don’t have gyms and sports fields there.

In addition, there is an increasing number of students who are being taught at home by their parents as part of what is called “homeschooling.” It is estimated that most of these children are in the age group under 14 years, with more than two million children. In nearly half of the states, they officially do not have access to public school sports facilities and competitions.

Playbook offers concrete suggestions after conducting a national survey

But Farey also sees a sport-specific problem: Schools focus on talented young athletes in the most popular sports in order to increase their popularity through competitions against other schools. “This is unfortunate because sport is valuable for everyone. Schools develop minds, and they need to really think about how to engage more students in healthy physical activities.

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His guide promises relief. And with the help of very concrete methods. These include: Don’t look at sports as a nice side thing, but rather link it specifically to general educational goals. Adapting sports offerings more closely to students’ desires rather than the other way around. The national survey conducted for the study showed teens’ interest in strength training, cycling, skating and even yoga. And let’s not forget: continuous training for sports teachers.

Tom Vari’s conclusion: “The playbook has done a lot of good,” he says. But there is a lot that can be done. And it definitely needs to be done urgently.