Aug 19, 2020The Most Important Class A High School Student Can Take
“Welcome to the most important class you will ever take in high school.”
Every year, this is my standard introduction for new students in my High School Weight Training Class. My statement is generally met with a few smiles or laughs by the students. It has been ingrained in them that Math, Science, and English are the cornerstones of their high school education. After all, those are the subjects that make up their standardized testing. Those are the subjects whose scores colleges will look at to determine if the student is an attractive applicant.
I follow my initial statement with, “I do not mean to devalue any course you are taking and all your courses are extremely important. However, the things that you learn in Weight Training Class are skills that will propel you to conquer challenges in any area of life now and for the next 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years of your life. In this class, you will learn how to overcome obstacles, overcome fear and failure, set lofty goals, work together, encourage those around you and, last but not least, embrace the process of becoming the best at getting better. On top of that: this class will help in reducing obesity rates in youth and adults, and improve your cognitive abilities and mental health.”
We are in unprecedented times in the world. Almost every school around the world is trying to figure out how to operate in this upcoming year. Just recently, a school district outside of Boston announced an agenda to cut their entire K-12 music, arts, and physical education staff and programs. The coronavirus pandemic has many schools considering canceling sports, and either eliminating or moving Physical Education and Physical Education elective classes (like Weight Training) to an online format. This is very disturbing as evidence has shown that healthier people recover from coronavirus at a much faster and higher rate.
In this article, I want to highlight four reasons why that is absolutely the wrong decision.
Reason #1: Improved Mental Health and Reduced Anxiety
Most of us realize the physical benefits of exercise and a properly designed strength program, but the benefits go above and beyond getting stronger, faster, reducing injuries, adding muscle, or losing fat.
One of the reasons I am so passionate about my job and profession is because of all of the additional benefits of exercise.
It has been proven that daily exercise reduces the risks of major depression, stress, and anxiety. Since the body and mind are so very closely linked, when your body feels better so does your mind. Today’s youth, including all of Generation Z, is the most anxious generation ever studied. A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that Generation Z participants reported they were nervous or anxious almost twice as much per month as Generation X. Daily exercise combats daily anxiety. A 2017 study found that individuals “that had the highest level of activity had the highest levels of well-being and the lowest levels of depression and anxiety.”
The benefits of exercise go well beyond obvious improved athleticism. If schools remove physical activity, physical education, and weight training classes from curriculums, they will put today’s youth at a major disadvantage and additional health risks. Sitting inside all day, in a classroom, is not good for depression and anxiety rates. The benefits of being outside, getting sunlight, and vitamin D play a big role in improving mental health. If these classes are taken away or moved online, the time that students have available to be outside is also diminished.
Reason #2: Improved Learning and Cognitive Abilities
There is overwhelming evidence confirming that physical activity improves brain function, including a profound positive impact on mental health. Research shows that students perform better in the classes immediately following their strength, conditioning, and fitness classes. Attending weight training class decreases stress and improves students’ ability to learn. In a 2007 study, German researchers found that students learn vocabulary words 20% faster following exercise. Participating in physical activity classes during the school day IMPROVES STUDENT test scores.
Reason #3: Focus on What You Can Control
Strength training encourages students to set big goals but also teaches the student they should only focus on what they can control. This is extremely important in today’s uncertain world. The information we have been receiving about the potential health risks of coronavirus changes daily and sometimes hourly. We need to educate and empower today’s youth with the ability to recognize and focus on what they can control. With 24-hour news networks and endless information being shared on social media, our students can become overwhelmed and feel helpless.
In our strength training programs, we operate on the philosophy of span of control. This allows the individual to focus all of their energy on what they can control and not waste it on things that are out of their control. The destination is a continuous byproduct of the work they put in daily.
As a result, instead of focusing on goals that compare them to their competition, high achievers focus on their own work ethic, attitude, and how they treat themselves and others. This skill can be taught in a properly designed high school strength and conditioning program. Taking away classes like these rob students of the opportunity to develop this invaluable trait.
Reason #4: Embrace Discomfort and Difficult Challenges
This is extremely important during this pandemic as well. While it is important to focus energy on what we can control, we should also be ready to embrace discomfort, sudden changes, and challenges. The weight room teaches students to overcome fears and persevere to achieve goals. The only way to improve in the weight room is to continually seek out new challenges and put yourself in uncharted territory. In order to reach maximum potential in strength, speed development, or overall fitness level, each of us must continually fail. Embracing failure is a necessary component of reaching goals, and understanding that the road to success is difficult and full of challenges and discomfort. These are traits that we nurture and develop in weight training programs and classes. If a young student can master this concept they will be equipped to attack any difficult circumstance they encounter throughout their life.
In conclusion, it is understandable that school administrators must analyze and make changes in order to operate schools during today’s circumstances. However, eliminating or reducing physical education and weight training classes is dangerous. I truly believe that it will do more harm to today’s youth than it will in protecting them from this virus. A properly structured weight training class teaches students to set goals, overcome obstacles, and instills them with the self-confidence to know they can conquer challenges in any area of their life. It prepares students to be leaders in their school and community and to be successful in high school, college, and beyond.
About the authors:
Micah Kurtz, MS, CSCS*D, RSCC*D, FMS, USAW, NASE-CSS
Micah Kurtz is the Director of Sports Performance/Assistant AD at Windermere Preparatory School. In addition, he serves as the Strength and Conditioning Consultant Coach to the 9-time high school basketball national champions Oak Hill Academy and has consulted on projects for the NFL, USA Basketball, USA Football, and Nike Football.
You can connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @KurtzM3 and visit his website www.TheAthleteMaker.com.
Luke Kurtz is the Vice President of Legal Affairs for US Sugar and passionate about helping students maximize their full potential. He was captain of the University at Albany football team where he won two conference titles and he played and coached professional football for the Corinthians Football Club in São Paulo, Brazil. He is an active writer and has delivered speeches and presentations throughout the United States, Brazil, China, and Hong Kong.