The Presidential Physical Fitness Test

This article reminded me of something that I haven’t thought about in decades: the presidential physical fitness test that we had to take in school when I was a kid. The author writes:

My positive relationship with movement developed not because of the test but in spite of it. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and had run a half-dozen half-marathons, at a comfortable pace, that I even began to believe I was an athlete.

I’ve heard similar stories from recreational exercisers, exercise scientists and fitness professionals.

I’m one of those people. I did horribly with the test, and, like the author, it was the source of a lot of anxiety and shame for me as a kid. And also like the author, despite the test, I later developed a lifelong exercise routine. Despite running hundreds of miles per year and running a half marathon a couple of times, it wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I began to consider myself an athlete. Now I consider exercise a core part of my identity; I prioritize it above many other things.

When I think back on my early history with sports and movement, one other thing comes to mind. The rural middle school that I attended had traditional competitive sports: only limited openings that you had to try out for, and athletes competed with similar schools throughout a large area. In sixth grade, I tried out for basketball and tennis, but I didn’t qualify for either one.

But the next year, our school district tried something new: everyone who wanted could participate in sports, and competition was between the three middle schools in our district. And while it was still competitive, the focus was on everyone being included, getting a change to play, and  having a positive experience.

I was indeed terrible at both basketball and tennis, but I had so much fun in that program. Then I moved to high school which only had traditional competitive sports, so I didn’t play sports after middle school. If I had had the opportunity to play lower-stakes sports in high school as I’d had in middle school, I’m convinced that I would have had very different attitudes toward sports and movement.