Fitness Testing Isn't Enough

When I was a child, I played volleyball and basketball from fifth to eighth grade. I did especially well in basketball, mostly because I had two great coaches, and I enjoyed spending free time in the backyard shooting baskets and developing a “sweet spot” on the right corner of the court where I could sink the ball hitting only net. However, one year when my P.E. teacher announced that she would be giving us a fitness test, I was terrified. I'd never done a chin-up before and could barely do push-ups or sit-ups.

Our basketball practices consisted of running laps, shooting and practicing basketball plays. My P.E. teachers did a great job of showing us how to play dodgeball, baseball, basketball and other fun games (even square dancing) — and I do recall having to do some actual calisthenics in gym class — but we didn't spend a lot of time on the basics of fitness or learning what we needed to do to be fit for the rest of our lives. I don't recall my scores on those tests, but I wish I hadn't had a reason to doubt my physical fitness.

Recently, the state of Texas released the results of fitness tests on 2.6 million of its schoolchildren. The results showed that as children age, their fitness levels decrease (see story on page 11 or go online to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder of the Cooper Institute, which developed the Fitnessgram test that Texas used, says that the next step for the state is to educate students about how to live healthier lives and to increase the amount of physical activity those children get each day.

Cooper has learned that testing is not enough. Take California, for example. In that state, schoolchildren have been taking the Fitnessgram test since 1999, but year after year, the California kids scored poorly on the tests. The problem, Cooper says, is that California had not done anything to improve the fitness level of children in the state. That is, until early 2007, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger implemented the Governor's Challenge to motivate children to increase their physical activity level, log their activity and possibly win prizes. In addition, a 2007 California law mandates that high school freshmen must pass at least five of the six Fitnessgram tests. If they don't, they may have to take more than the two years of physical education required to graduate. Sounds like someone in the state finally realized that testing isn't enough. You can't keep telling children they are doing poorly and not give them the tools and time to do better.

Texas isn't waiting as long as California did to increase the physical activity level of schoolchildren. The legislature has mandated increased P.E. time for schools. Cooper, who already raised $2.5 million in private donations to fund the Fitnessgram initiative in Texas, is now looking for more money to continue the program — which was mandated by the Texas legislature but not funded by it — and to continue to analyze the results. He's also talking with governors in other states about implementing the program there.

So how can club owners help? Whether or not your state has mandated fitness testing for schoolchildren, the need for educating children about fitness is still there. I bet few P.E. teachers would turn down an offer from a qualified fitness professional to come in and “lecture” about fitness basics. You'd be doing something to help the future generation, and you could possibly create some future members for yourself and the industry.

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