Physical Education: Dangerous Play? Part 2

In recent years, one school district after another has revised its phys ed programs to put the emphasis on skills and fitness, instead of playing competitive games in which the strongest and most skilled students benefit while the rest are shunted aside.

Local controversies frequently result, and dodge ball has become the symbol of the shift in emphasis. The debate has been carried on in national newspaper and magazine articles. Williams has been interviewed repeatedly on national TV programs. In media ranging from local talk radio shows to the National Review, his ideas have been attacked as crazy and even un-America — often with the argument that competitive games teach attitudes needed to succeed in life today.

His fans and his critics agree on this much: the issue is much more than a question about whether to ban a single game. George Graham, a professor of health and physical education at Virginia Tech, one of his supporters, said the trouble is that people fail to understand the purpose of physical education in the 21st century: Contemporary programs are not designed to teach youngsters about success and failure. They are designed to guide all youngsters in the process of becoming physically active for a lifetime.

Youth Football Injuries
There is also new attention being focused on the danger of serious injuries to students who play in both in-school and out-of-school organized leagues, particularly football.

Tara Dortch, ASN, BA, MSHI, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is a program coordinator for THINK FIRST, a national and worldwide sports injury prevention program. Operating from an office in Chicago, THINK FIRST is sponsored by the American Academy of Neurosurgeons and the Congress of Neurosurgeons. It concentrates on preventing brain and spinal injuries among young athletes, and conducts injury-prevention programs in schools and other institutions throughout the United States and in Canada, Mexico, Europe and India.

Every year, Dortch said, an estimated 182,000 children under 15 are hurt playing football, and 20 percent of high school players suffer some kind of head injury.

She said most of the head injuries are mild concussions, and usually not serious, but repeated concussions can be dangerous. They can lead to seizures and schizophrenia in later life.

The risk, though, could be minimized by the use of proper equipment and good coaching. Studies show that teams with more experienced coaches and more assistant coaches have lower injury rates, Dortch said. Good conditioning helps, and proper warmups are important. Many injuries result from not warming up and stretching the muscles.

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