Common Mistakes by PE Teachers

The following are common teaching problems displayed by physical education teachers, especially by beginning teachers or students in teacher education (listed somewhat in order of importance and frequency): 

  1. Teaching it just like you would coach it: Coaches at all levels work mainly with highly motivated and skilled participants in a given sport. Furthermore, coaches tend to be selective with athletes and cater to the higher-skilled participants on a team. Physical education should be the opposite, inclusive of all skill and motivation levels. It is challenging to teach the "uncoordinated"  and "unmotivated" learners how to do something, especially for teachers who have been gifted athletes their entire lives.  In short, teach to average or below-average student's level in physical education classes. Keep the instruction very simple and activities developmentally appropriate.
  2. Moving quickly to a full-on game: Many teachers get into a scrimmage or full game quickly. Instead, use good learning progressions, adequate practice time, and appropriate lead-up activities for a sport. At the very least, if games are used they should mostly be small sided (e.g. 3 on 3 soccer or basketball) so participation can be maximized.  
  3. Laps and stretching to start: Running laps is boring for most and turns kids off to physical activity. If you use an active warm-up game, what Robert Pangrazi calls an “introductory activity,” students usually like this better. Start it right away when students enter the gym or playing field. Regarding stretching, it is not a good use of time at the beginning of a physical education class. There is quite a bit of evidence that stretching doesn’t decrease chance of injury and if improving flexibility is a goal, then it should be done after muscles are warmed up. Furthermore, the younger the students are, the less need there is for stretching because they are very flexible anyway. So, a stretching routine uses up valuable time that could be spent with activity and learning a new skill. Because of obesity problems in the US, maximizing activity time is even more important then ever. Stretching is important and should be taught where appropriate, but you should examine the information and decide when it is most appropriate to include stretching in classes.
  4. Not using effective cues: First, the instructional cues used for performing a technical or tactical skill should be descriptive about HOW to perform the skill, but also succinct and easy to remember. Something catchy is a bonus (e.g. "hand in the cookie jar" for the basketball follow through). In turn, the cues should be reinforced through repetition throughout the class.
  5. TMI: Providing too much technical information or too many instructional cues. Cover only a few cues (no more than 4). Sometimes 1 or 2 is even better, if they are the most important aspects the students should focus on to perform the skill correctly. You can always emphasize other cues later, when they are ready.
  6. Using elimination games: Games that cause people to be eliminated and sit out, like the popular bump, should be abandoned altogether in the curriculum since they negatively reinforce learning and reduce activity time. 
  7. Too much wait time: Activities and drills should be arranged so that very few people are standing in line waiting to perform a skill. Ensuring an active class period is one of the most important aspects of a physical education nowadays. The goal is to have the students moving as much as possible during the time you have them. The transitions and instructional time should be used primarily for cardiovascular and strength recovery. A good goal would be to have them active 50-80% of the total class time.
  8. Inappropriate choosing of teams: Captains picking teams and counting off by number are ineffective ways to select teams since they are time consuming and embarrassing to some (in the case of people being picked last). Instead, use a method like pre-selecting teams, self-selection, and random group formation (e.g. while running about have them stop then go stand toe to toe with 3 close by students or stand back to back with someone the same height).
  9. Keeping notes: Usually in PE teaching it is best if your notes (lesson plan paper) disappear while you are teaching and can reappear if you need to take a quick look or review what is next. This frees you up to be more active and use your hands to demonstrate. Overall, it's usually considered unprofessional to rely on notes as a PE teacher, for one reason or another. Another technique is to keep some 3x5 cards in a pocket for quick reference to remember what to cover. Whatever technique is used to follow your lesson, just be as covert as possible and keep the papers out of your hands while teaching.  
  10. Personally participating in a drill or activity: You definitely want to avoid ever being part of a drill, unless you absolutely have to. There are 3 important reasons for this: (a) it is extremely difficult to adequately supervise students while you are playing with them, so this is a big liability concern, (b) you aren’t free to move around and provide feedback and instruction as needed, and (c) if you ever contact and hurt a student you will lose the lawsuit because of the size and maturity disparity.
  11. Unawareness to danger: Safety is a major concern in physical education. Scan the teaching area for clothing and bags on the perimeter and any hazards the children may run into or slip on. When using striking implements, organize participants in rows or areas where you know there will be very little chance of someone hitting another person. Use strict guidelines and procedures of distributing and use of the striking implements. Buffer zones (safety space) around activities is very important to ensure students do not run into something as they go out of the playing area.
  12. Cumbersome adaptations on the fly: When a drill isn't working the expected way, either adapt the drill (e.g. changing rules or boundaries) or in some cases abandoning the activity and moving to something that works. These decisions have to come quickly and fluently, to maintain flow of the class. This is a skill that is learned with practice in PE teaching. It is helpful to always have a back-up activity prepared in advance as a fall-back when things aren't going well. 
  13. Not using a "gym voice:" This is speaking from the diaphragm and projecting to the entire class. It is not yelling. Perhaps more importantly, prompts should be use to get everyone's attention before speaking and then ensure that no one is behind you and that you are up-wind from everyone while you are speaking. 
  14. Not dressing the part: It is important to appear ready for action, as if you're ready to run a 10k or do 50 sit-ups at any moment. Attire is an important thing as a PE teacher because you want to portray that you are active, so people think you have been working out all day. At the very least, have on the proper footwear for activity. It is also important to be in the right clothes to demonstrate skills. The irony is that you won't be participating in the activities for reasons already mentioned.
  15. Poor flow: Adequate time must be spent on activities in order to practice the skills, but there is a critical time to move to the next drill in order to keep the pace moving and hold students' focus. Settle on a good pace that keeps students on task and allows for good practice of activities.  
  16. Relying on relays: Competitive relays are not very good for instruction. Avoid the out and back type of relay drills. These leave quite a few students standing or sitting and waiting their turn. Also, if you send one at a time it puts that student on display and can lead to some embarrassment and self-esteem issues associated with activity. Furthermore, Pangrazi recommends avoiding competitive games to learn a skill, because usually good technique disappears when students only think about going faster (or winning). If relays are to be used, it may be better to just have them all go one way, then you can send one after the other. Or, just send them all at once. This can help them learn spacial awareness with others in the mix.
  17. Inappropriate use of "balls:" A common mistake is to use the term "balls" often, especially within the context of "hold your balls." At a certain age in elementary school, this becomes amusing and distracting for children and this continues on through college age. Instead, simply leaving the "s" off the word or using another term like "basketballs" will avoid the snickers.
  18. Not moving around the class and providing feedback. 
  19. Odd man out: Have a plan in place for when there are extra people left out when dividing into specific activities. It is not acceptable to jump in yourself because of the aforementioned reasons.