American university student compares US and British school sport

Posted 27th November 2015

A full-time student at Indiana University in the United States, 21-year-old Katie Kapusta has always harboured a great affection for sport, and during a recent visit to England was able to draw a number of interesting comparisons between how schools approach physical education in the two countries. Katie, who wishes to become an on screen sports presenter, talks here about her experiences growing up ‘across the pond’ and discusses what schools here might consider doing differently to help aid the development of young people.

School sport works slightly differently in the US. Through grades 1-8 [up to the age of 14], we had gym class twice a week. It was mostly fun games like dodgeball and kickball. When I went to High School it suddenly became a lot more serious. There were more physical tests and it wasn’t anywhere near as fun. We also only had to take gym for two semesters [an academic term], during our time there – and I chose to get it out of the way quickly.

For me, sport was always more fun when there was less pressure to do well. Nonetheless, I stuck with soccer [football] and basketball throughout High School, and while I was never particularly good at the latter, our coach made sure we all had a good time by bringing an element of fun to every training session and treating everyone equally. Those are underappreciated qualities in a teacher.

There is often too much emphasis on success in sport. Recreational leagues are now dwindling in our country and it’s almost essential for kids to play in leagues which are more expensive and have a higher level of competition. This is creating too much pressure for people of a young age and we are risking burning them out more quickly as a result.

Sport should always be something that you look forward to. The social side of sport was always very important to me. It’s where I met the majority of my friends. I also learned a lot about myself, like how hard I could push myself, how to be a leader and how to still be a team player.

I also quickly discovered that being active meant not having to work so hard to stay in shape. The practices naturally built in the regular workout time, while it was much easier to motivate myself when involved in a team, rather than going to the gym. Although obesity is abnormally high in the US, you don’t see it as much in kids as you do in adults. In school, where PE is a required subject, there are a lot of programmes on wellness and the ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

These benefits will be the same anywhere. The major difference between our countries is the way that we approach PE at a college level. America prides itself in its collegiate athletes and people thoroughly enjoy watching college sports, perhaps even more than they do the professionals at times.

Obviously I am biased, but I really think we do it better. I think more young people are interested in more sports – not just football or soccer – and have more choice in what they want to try. This emphasis on college sports also gives emerging athletes more of a chance to decide on whether they consider what they’re doing to be a potential career.

For example, many organisations in the US have specific rules which state that students must put in a minimum number of hours before turning professional, whereas in England a young teenager could potentially already be playing at the highest level when they’re not mentally prepared for the challenge. It’s a huge difference in our cultures and it would be interesting to see what impact a similar system would have if employed in England.

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