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Physical Fitness for All

This article originally appeared in the May 1980 issue of AB with the headline, “Do We Have the Desire and Determination to Promote Physical Fitness for All?”

 

The rationale for the first National Conference on Physical Fitness and Sports for All was a conviction that our knowledge and understanding of physical fitness and sport have outrun the dissemination and application of new information.

The conference represents merely the first step in addressing the problems that it was called to consider. The second step—and it is the longer and more difficult of the two—involves carrying this information back to the areas that we represent and seeing that it is put into practice. Unless we do that, our efforts here will have been largely in vain.

Nineteen years ago, President John F. Kennedy called a National Conference on Youth Fitness which I was privileged to attend. I heard many inspiring and meaningful remarks from a number of national authorities at that conference.

We have heard a great deal in the past two days that is encouraging. The commitment of President Jimmy Carter is exciting. You will remember that the president said that he considered organized physical fitness to be the best possible investment in American health. Everything we do to make American more physically fit pays handsomely.

You will remember that the president also advised that our biggest challenges and opportunities lie with American children, stating, “We have to face the hard fact that scores of the national youth fitness test have not improved at all in 15 years. Obviously, most children are not getting as involved as they should be in physical fitness.”

President Carter’s charge to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and its chairman, New Mexico governor Jerry Apodaca, to upgrade our nation’s physical fitness program, is before us. We must work with the states and with governors to establish a Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in each of the 50 states. We must work with schools to establish daily physical education at all grade levels. We must remind school administrators and school boards about the advantages of physical education.

We must urge all employers through personal messages from the president, the council, and hopefully all of you, to make facilities available for all fitness programs. We must encourage all federal departments and agencies—including our military services—to support physical fitness programs.

 

School Systems Must Aid the Young and Old

You will remember that the honorable Shirley Hufstedler, secretary of education, concurred with the president about the essential need to improve the physical fitness of our youth, including those with physical disabilities. She stated that it was her hope to find ways to bring senior citizens into structures within school systems to help young children because she thinks through such involvement we can find additional ways to contribute to the physical fitness of both the old and young.

The secretary emphasized that she is going to undertake a review of the kinds of programs within the department which affect physical fitness teaching and training. And, she encouraged conferees to provide her with a number of new directions and new ideas to not only preserve the programs we already have, but to strengthen those that should be in place for the young people of the future.

Dr. Julius Richmond, the surgeon general, echoed the president’s concern and call for action. He said, “I hope everyone here will seize this opportunity to find new and better ways to tell the American people that physical fitness is the chance of a lifetime—for a lifetime, for a long and healthy lifetime. If we begin with the preschool child and continue working with all age groups through to our senior adults, this nation can wage a far more successful campaign against so many health problems that now sap the strength of our people.”

You have heard national authorities tell you of their convictions about the essential nature of exercise, so you have much that you can report back to those with whom and under whom you work.

We have heard a list of positive developments which are occurring and include the tremendous increases in adult exercise and sports participation; the increasing involvement of women and girls, middle-aged adults and the elderly; the development of employee fitness programs; and the growing perception of exercise and sport as activities that can contribute to physical, mental and social well-being.

In considering how to address the problem of the non-exercisers in this country, I keep returning to the fact that knowledge is well ahead of practice. For instance, our experts advise us that childhood activity habits may shape the course of an entire life. Given that fact, it amounts to something approaching criminal negligence for parents to fail to see that their children get plenty of exercise, learn basic physical skills and develop a healthy attitude toward sport.

 

Many Facilities Are Under-Utilized

Yet, we have heard that physical education is not even offered in some of our schools and that we do not require it in a great many more. It is hard to understand when school boards, administrators and curriculum committees eliminate physical education, because three highly regarded national surveys have shown the PCPFS that the vast majority of adults—including parents—feel that physical education is so important that it should be required for all children and youth. Even where we do have required programs, schools frequently do not provide the systematic exercise and progressive skills instruction that our experts tell us are essential.

We are also advised that our facilities and other resources for sport are the best and most extensive in the world, but we learn that many of these resources are under-utilized or are not being used for the purposes for which they were intended.

We have learned that recreation departments represent our greatest untapped resource for providing physical fitness in the communities of this nation. By increasing the opportunities for instruction and competition, they could substantially widen the national participation base.

John Davis, executive director of the National Recreation and Park Association, told us, “All our systems are go for fitness.” He suggested we immediately form a coalition to implement physical fitness and sports for all through our nation’s recreation departments.

Dr. Janet R. MacLean, director of Indiana University’s Center on Aging and the Aged, helpus us clearly understand the importane of physical fitness for the elderly when she told us of the payoff of one oldster’s regimen. “The woman said, ‘Now I can get off the john by myself,’” Dr. MacLean reported.

This reminded me that a number of years ago, I observed an exercise program for the elderly in one of the churches in Zurich, Switzerland. On the wall was a sign which read, “Everyone should exercise: the elderly must exercise.” Surely none of us now fail to recognize the essential nature of exercise for older Americans.

The biggest obstacle to overcome is getting people to understand that something that is so available, so inexpensive and so simple as exercise can be so rewarding and so valuable.

 

Employee Programs Have Great Potential

A relatively new factor in the fitness/sports equation is the employee physical fitness program. More than 450 large companies and corporations now provide some type of leadership, facilities and programming for their employees. The overwhelming majority of these programs have been developed during the past decade. As they continue to multiply and expand, their potential for increasing fitness/sports participation opportunities for adults is obvious.

We know that nearly 30 million young people (aged roughly from six to 21 years) participate in organized out-of-school sports programs. Interscholastic athletics involve nearly six million youth in 36 sports. Nearly two million of these are girls.

At the college level, nearly six million young adults are involved in some kind of sport. More than 540,000 of these are the highly skilled athletes who take part in intercollegiate competition. Another 4.3 million are participating in intramural sports and 1,410,000 are involved in recreational and club sports.

We leave this conference realizing that sports and physical fitness are allies. Where exercise programs sometimes fail, a sport which is right for you may keep you involved in regular physical conditioning for and through the sport. Unfortunately, as attractive as most sports are, they vary in their potential contributions to total fitness. Obviously, when the sport involves adequate heart and lung training but provides little strength and flexibility, the participant needs to train beyond the sport in order to achieve a balanced exercise program.

There recently have been several developments that indicated we are on the verge of realizing even a greater involvement in sport. One of these is the decision by the Congress and by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to strengthen the national sports governing bodies. As these bodies become better organized, more liberally funded and more representative in their makeup, they will be able to promote participation and development on a much wider scale.

Another promising development is the conversion of the Amateur Athletic Union from a multi-sport governing body into a national service agency for amateur sport. Where the AAU previously has been concerned largely with championship events, its largest programs today are its age-group and Junior Olympics programs for developing athletes.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the AAU announced that it will be, in cooperation with the President’s Council, sponsoring a series of master’s competitions for older athletes.

 

Sports for All Helps Olympic Effort

The USOC team is the apex of the pyramid of our amateur sports world. The height of that apex depends upon how broad the base upon which it is built. Mass Sports for All will result in better performance and better world-class athletes. Schools, colleges, clubs, industry, recreation, voluntary agencies such as Ys, national sports governing bodies and multi-sport groups are important as a part of that broad-based pyramid, and we sometimes tend to underestimate the contributions that any of the aforementioned make to our Olympic effort.

In this regard, I think it is important to acknowledge the tremendous potential of physical education in the initial discovery and development of athletic talent and attraction to sport. A quality physical education program will develop physically fit youth with a variety of sports skills and create a favorable lifetime attitude toward sports.

For a number of years, the USOC has recognized the prowess of graduates of California high schools in our Olympic effort. California has produced more than 25 percent of U.S. Olympic team member since 1912. This performance must be partially credited to the fact that until several years ago, every pupil in grades one through 12 in that state had daily physical education. Physical education is properly concerned with dynamic health and participation throughout life in fitness and sports activities; but its impact on competitive athletics is inescapable and its influence on sports invaluable. It is essential that daily physical education be required at all levels in order to have the most direct and positive means of improving both physical fitness and Sports for All in this country.

We marvel at the athletic proficiency of the East Germans, and rightly so. A nation of only 18 million people, GDR is one of the world’s three major sports powers. But we have a home-grown example that is instructive concerning what can be accomplished through proper preparation and conditioning.

We have heard here that we possess the know-how, the facilities and the other resources to greatly improve our sports and physical fitness programs and practices. The only serious question remaining is: do we have the desire and the determination?

This conference was designed to help us give an affirmative answer. I am convinced by what I have seen and hear here, “Yes” is the only kind of answer we can give. I hope you agree. After all, it is your response that will determine whether this conference is recorded as simply another meeting or as a watershed in the sports and physical fitness movement.

 

About the Author:C. Carson Conrad, executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and SportsC. Carson Conrad, executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports

C. Carson Conrad was named executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in September, 1970, after serving nearly 10 years as a consultant to the council. His involvement with the council began under President John F. Kennedy, who appointed Conrad special advisor on physical fitness in 1961.

For 24 years prior to 1970, Conrad worked for the State Department of Education in California, the last 16 years as director of sports, recreation and physical education for the state’s high schools, which make up the largest state high school association in the United States.

Conrad holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his master’s from California State University at Sacramento. Among the many awards he has received are: associate fellow, American Academy of Physical Education; the Exemplary Service Award from the Public Health Service of HEW, and distinguished service awards from the California Coaches Association, the California Interscholastic Federation, the California Athletic Directors Association and the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Conrad has published more than 50 professional articles and conducted more than 250 local, state and regional physical fitness and sports clinics. He is a retired Air Force Reserve colonel, and an outstanding swimmer.

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