Physical Education to Counter Our Culture

A qualitative approach to a physical education system will rewire our selfish, shortsighted cultural patterns.

Success comes not just from what you do, but how you do it. Intentional focus and enthusiastic execution are the secret to breakthroughs. The bulk of training programs, if thoughtfully designed, will work. The difference lies in user errors. All training requires attention to detail and a mindful approach to execute each rep with maximum efficacy. Rep quality is built on months and years of thoughtful progression built on a foundation of the maturity required to increase quality before quantity and resistance. All reps are not created equal.

The same is true in all of sport. Young players make grand proclamations about the work they will do: “I’m going to shoot 250 free throws a day.” The assumption is that by just doing it more, they’ll certainly be an awesome free throw shooter. Then they rush through the 250 shots each day, with their minds on what they’ll get to do when they finish, instead of on the details that contribute to putting the ball in the basket. Ask any basketball coach, and they’ll tell you they’d much rather see an athlete take 50 perfect shots each day, where each was done with a game-time focus. The same is true of a softball player in the hitting tunnels, or a wide receiver running routes. There’s not much benefit to mindlessly going through the motions.

This is even more evident in education. College libraries are full of students toggling between social media sites and text messages, certain that their mere presence in a library and proximity to notes will create an osmosis effect and earn them an A. It doesn’t work like that.

Growth Doesn’t Come From Checking the Boxes

Perhaps the most insidious mindset in modern society is, “what’s in it for me?” It’s the question that allows consumerist culture to thrive. Impulsive as we are, the “me” in question is a short-term me, that accepts the narrow, limited assumptions of today’s world. Assumptions like: only health freaks don’t eat fast food a few days a week, reading is work, exercise is punishment, success is making enough money to buy the infinite list of things I want, and everyone is very interested in me. This “me” wants immediate satisfaction from efforts and measures benefits by the immediate, tangible payoff. School, therefore, is about short-term grades, GPA, and checking the right boxes for college requirements. Skills, mindsets, ways of looking at and approaching the world are all ignored, because they aren’t measured in a concrete way.

This cultural disease is why parents will program habits that virtually ensure their kids live unsatisfied and chronically unhealthy lives that result in frequent hospitalizations, surgeries, and an eventual, painful, health-related death. Those are all long-term results. In the short term, many parents only care that their kid can’t whine about not having what their friends get, and earning their “love” by giving them cookies for breakfast, sodas at every movie, and a Camaro when they turn 16. The negative future results are so far away that it hardly seems real. By the time these patterns truly create angst, the kids are out of the house and left with few tools for reversing such entrenched habits.

South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin discusses the disconnect many people have between youth behavior and how they are raised:

“You know what makes me sick to my stomach, when I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything. We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones who have changed. To blame kids is a cop out.”

Instant gratification is a cruel expectation to create in our youth. They earn no greater skills that might unlock more of the world, and instead become debilitated by the belief in their own dependencies. We actively train them that getting immediate outcomes is all that matters. It is giving students fish, rather than teaching them to fish. As a result, having to fish for oneself sounds terribly arduous, and an unfair requirement to those who’ve always been given what they wanted.

This is why sports coaches today have to battle against kids who focus on themselves, rather than the team. Pro athletes are seen as cool when they promote their own greatness, so kids pretend they are better than they are and practice looking cool, because it brings short-term adoration. Sharing the ball means less limelight, as they assume that contributing to the team’s goals will not sufficiently highlight their ability.

Physical Education to Counter Our Cultural Flaws

How much attention do you give to your tasks? How willing are you to struggle and maintain focus? This is the hardest lesson to teach youth and adults alike, and yet it’s the most important for success. It’s a lesson that is not quantifiable, yet permeates all the tangible and intangible aspects of sport. This is why mindfulness training has been adopted by many elite athletes, and why it’s one of the essential habits I suggest. In today’s world, a process orientation that emphasizes progression and quality over quantity must be explicitly taught, because they run directly in opposition to the predominant cultural patterns.

The Bold Spirit Physical Education System is designed to be a transformative educational experience for groups that will range in age from 12 to 22. It requires a rewiring of approach away from our dominant cultural patterns. At the root of the program will be the practice of natural human movement, emphasizing quality and progression. There is so much lost between creating a workout and actual implementation. Within the same movements, there are variations in tempo, rate of force development, technique, etc. Two students could have widely varying experiences and results in the same program, if qualitative controls are not applied.

This highlights the limitation of simple set and rep schemes. We need a more qualitative approach, especially for large groups. When we teach skills that can be practiced daily and emphasize quality and fluid progression, we’ll see more applicable progress, and create more connection to natural human movements. The kettlebell and bodyweight training in the program can be trained nearly every day, just as the daily experience of natural human endeavors created strength in our ancestors. The skills and exercises we focus on will bring a daily infusion of strength and awareness. Not only do they offer body mastery and application to real world movement, but they are endlessly scalable means that require great initial attention for mastery.

There is a simple hierarchy that guides quality training:

  1. Execute with movement quality. If you cannot do this, then regress and master the regression.
  2. Execute the tempo. Attention to detail here ensures all benefits are fully realized, and that we do not hide weaknesses with momentum. Concentric speed is of great importance. When that speed diminishes, it’s time to stop the set. This is where breakdown occurs, not strength. As in life, we’ll occasionally push the envelope, but this is not our daily approach.
  3. If you can maintain execution of step 1 and 2, then you may add intensity and progress. If not, regress and execute.

This emphasis requires a far deeper focus on each repetition. There is a marked shift in approach from typical training—going through checklist workouts where the intent is to mark off the boxes and get a desired result. The Bold Spirit program is immersive, and begins from the assumption that the practice itself is valuable, not just the outcome. Paradoxically, by dropping the expectation of a specific result and the constant accompanying analysis, truly remarkable physical and mental changes are possible.

Physical Training Is Not Separate From Education

When we stop chasing selfish satisfaction, we find far more fulfillment and greater depth of success. Rather than setting out to see what things get us, we focus on the value we can bring to the world. When we embrace this ebb and flow of growth and contribution, then we come to life.

The Bold Spirit program rejects emphasis on immediate outcome. Learning is done because it has merit, in and of itself. Physical training is a transformative experience, and this approach will enable a great deal more long-term growth. It opens a fascinating world where each experience brings deep value, and where each day opens us up to further transformation. Skills compound upon themselves, as we know how to focus and bring an authentic, cross-curricular understanding to each experience. All training intersects, and the boundaries and boxes we’ve operated within begin to lose their walls.

In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger observes that people often look back at war and disaster with great fondness. In times of chaos, we return to community. We share common goals, and this creates a deepness in our relationships and experience. The immediate outcomes for the selfish “me” are replaced by a sense of purpose and being a part of something greater.

This is a deeply necessary reality that we should strive to recreate. The Bold Spirit program is aimed at delivering this to forge a community driven to live more inspired lives. At the core of this community is a commitment to supportive development and transformative challenges. It believes in a powerful “we” developed through mutually supporting each other to find greater power and ability within ourselves.

Physical training is not separate from our pursuit of purpose, community, and education; physical training is the backbone that bonds us together and creates understanding of a qualitative approach to learning. All will have to search within themselves to find greater strength, and this experience will bond us. Our approach to the physical training progressions is uncompromising in its insistence on a qualitative process that guides each person’s training. This will be the way of Bold Spirit Physical Education.

Our path to fitness should be a springboard to a useful life. It should create a perspective that inclines us to respect our truest natures and fight for more humanity, amid a culture obsessed with comfort and self-interest.