Physical exercise (PE) does not have to be about sport. Walking is a good example. A previous post on this website highlighted the importance of elite level walking to Ireland. Under the International Carding Scheme, two of the top three funded athletes were walkers (here). Irish athletes are very competitive when it comes to walking. However, that is not what Professor Moyna has in mind. He is not advocating competitive walking. He wants school children to go for a walk for health reasons. Physical exercise does not need to be competitive. It can be for physical health reasons. (Kids might also do it without headphones.)
Of course there are health benefits to competitive sport. But that is not the primary purpose of competitive sport. In fact, some sports might have very limited health benefits and large potential health costs. For example, the history of motor sport is littered with fatalities while a few contact field sports are now considering the concussion related problems. Too often, we implicitly assume that the physical benefits of sport always outweigh the costs. It may not be the case. Most competitive sports are not designed with the primary purpose of getting the participants into the best physical shape for the participants' health. In fact, the physical shape of the participants can be influenced by their chosen competitive sport, e.g. it is hard to imagine most American footballer gracing the gymnastics floor.
In the case of school children, we too often implicitly assume that engagement in sport helps their academic achievements. Again, this is not always the case. There comes a point where the time constraints can damage academic achievement. Time devoted to sport is time not devoted to study or other activities. Elite athletes, or kids who devote time to a range of sporting activities, have less time for study. Period. That is not to say that participation in sport does not help but we should be clear about the costs. Previous posts on this blog have noted the positive statistical relationship between academic performance and sports such as basketball, hockey and hurling (here). However, there was no statistical relationship for most sports.
One of the headlines in today's media is that boys are 42% fitter than girls (here). Then there is the evidence that girls drop out of sport earlier than boys. We should be careful about presuming that this is all bad news. Maybe the kids (and their parents) are changing their priorities. It is possible that they are deciding to devote more time to their studies as the evidence suggests (here). Is it possible that boys should be devoting less time to sport and more to their studies? Studies like that reported today can help us think about the issues.
The bottom line is that these are complex matters but that does not excuse us from thinking about them. If there is one lesson we can take from today's media coverage of the fitness challenge then it might be Professor Moyna's obvious statement that physical exercise in our schools does not have to mean competitive sport.