Physical Educators: Team or Group... What do YOU Think?


Forward by Paul Rosengard

Over the years, physical education has been inextricably linked with athletics and “assigned” its own, unique vernacular:

“Drop and give me 20!”  “You throw like a girl.” “Take another lap around the track.”  “Winners always watch Glee and losers tape Sportscenter.”  OK, I made that last one up – but it’s really just as silly and wrong as the previous three examples…

If you know SPARK, you may have recognized that we make a conscience effort to change the way we (physical educators) speak to their students.  We suggest using ahead or behind — instead of winner and loser.  Loops around a health circuit — instead of laps around a track.  Anything to separate today’s physical education, from the clichés associated with the “old” PE.

Recently, we started discussing whether it’s better to use the words group and groupmates, instead of team and teammates – even with high school age students.  Not surprisingly, we had some differing opinions, so I thought it would be good to solicit the opinions of others.  Joe Herzog made the time to share his thoughts and I am appreciative.  He graciously agreed to let SPARK print his words and they’re featured below.  Thanks for making the time to read it – and then let us know what YOU think? Agree or disagree? Let’s keep the conversation going in Facebook and Twitter as well…

Blog Article:

It was less difficult for me and my colleagues to divest ourselves of the term “team” because we restructured our curriculum making it greatly devoid of the traditional “team” games. The only “Team” game I played was “Ultimate Frisbee” and even then it was a four goaled game in which teams didn’t actually exist.  It was our goal to turn away from the traditional “team competition” concept and guide our students toward a more intrinsic, self motivated personal change “competition.” Working with inner-city kids who had huge allegiances to professional sports teams, it was at first a challenge, but as personal improvement, personal challenges, self-investigation and cooperatives became fun, challenging and introspective, we saw fundamental changes in attitudes and behaviors.

Thus we knew that it was possible to run a viable, successful program without being, or without essentially using “team” in any of the common concepts. We used “groups”, “families”, “buddies up” and “brothers ‘n sisters” with some co-ed groups. Actually all of our groups were co-ed and that as well made it somewhat easier to move away from the traditional team sport competition concept and go to dual and individual challenges and personal goals and improvement.

We did discuss, with our students, the difference between physical education and athletics; how and why they were different and why learning and developing specific skills and learning how to work together was of significant benefit to them IF they chose to participate in athletics. Something must have worked, because in the fourth year of our new school (from a 9th grade only to a 7-8 middle school) our athletic participation more than doubled.

We discussed with our students why cooperation worked better in the workplace than competition; that competition between businesses was a natural and often unspoken outcome in the fight to gain economic advantage, but that within the business itself, cooperative effort toward a common goal made for better products, a better working environment and a more successful business, which usually meant more profit and better working condition for workers.

Our philosophy was that a confident, knowledgeable student, at ease with who he/she was could move forward into intra-murals or into athletic competition and work well with others and not be afraid to make extra effort or not be afraid to fail because they recognize what those concepts meant in the whole process of health/fitness, challenge and successful group outcomes. The use of the term “team” in intra-murals is a natural outcome of the iconic status of team sports in the United States (and world wide, as well). Curiously we didn’t have much of an intra-mural program (mostly at lunch) because the vast majority of our kids either went out for a sport team or they were in the classroom after school being tutored, under going remediation, being counseled or they went directly home and had to baby sit younger siblings.

We tried to produce a program that was both physically and intellectually challenging to our kids, to provide them with a curriculum (and a fair amount of choice in activities–in a carefully constructed program) that they enjoyed and we made it as cross-curricular as we could so kids could connect P.E. with the classroom. That concept worked well because we had an admin. and a “classroom” teaching staff that bought into the concept.

Getting away from the team competition concept and the use of the term “team” in fairly short order was not difficult. It certainly served our program and our students (and the community at large, it seems) quite well. As our students bonded our suspension/expulsion, one of the highest in the district dropped to 3rd lowest and our attendance went from one of the worst to just short of the best (with crime in the neighborhood dropping significantly, at the same time.) I’m not suggesting we did all of this ourselves. There was a world of help and cooperation (there’s that word again) from a variety of on and off campus resources, but we think our philosophy provided the initial impetus to get it all started.


Joseph E. Herzog, Neurokinesiologist
Chair, Region 28, CAHPERD
Pres. Fresno Alliance for Phys. Educ./Athletics
Senior Advisor, Fit4learning
2010 CAHPERD Honor Award

“You can learn more about a person in an hour of play, than in an year of conversation.” Plato

Tags: , , , , , , ,

  • Dennis

    I teach health and fitness at a 5th, 6th and 7th grade school. I have never really thought about the words “team” or “teammates” having a negative connotation. In the beginning of the year I talk about what a team is and the roles of a teammate. Although every activity is not a team activity as individual skills are taught and learned, quite often the culminating activity for a unit is some sort of game involving teammates. For some of my students my class is the first time they have been part of a team and I think that is a worth while experience. Occasionally, teams create a team name, flag and a cheer. Just recently, I finished a volleyball unit that ended with a tournament. Students were taught bracket play, seeding, pool play, etc. and were placed into teams or groups. Although not every team “won” sportsmanship was taught and students were motivated to do their best. A confidential survey was passed out to my students that asked if they enjoyed the tournament amongst other questions and over 90 percent of my students did express a high enjoyment.

    Granted, physical education class is not a “sports team,” and I do not think it should be. I can see the reasons that some programs use the word “groups” instead of “teams,” but I think teaching students about teams and using the word “teams” has a lot of benefits.

    In addition, I currently have a lot of competitions in my class in addition to team games. I know that not all of my students are motivated by competition, and the focus is for students to work hard, do their best, and have fun. Many of the competitions are simply performance assessments where students are competing against themselves to do their best. For example, we recently had a performance assessment competition in which students in which students served the volleyball ten times and scores were recorded. Students who scored a perfect ten out of ten, were singled out as the champions. Attention was not made to students who performed adequately or below standard, just the students who exceeded expectations.

    Although I feel using the words “team” and “teammate” are valuable in the physical education department, I enjoyed the article and the discussion post. This is my first time reading this blog and I appreciate the ideas and opinions presented. I certainly plan on visiting this blog regularly and look forward to rich discussions

  • It feels great to find this kind of an interesting topic on the internet like this Physical Educators nowadays. I was significantly interested with what you've shared and posted with us. Thanks for this anyway.

  • It feels great to find this kind of an interesting topic on the internet like this Physical Educators nowadays. I was significantly interested with what you've shared and posted with us. Thanks for this anyway.Personal Trainer Santa Anna