School Days

A Look at Trends in Recreation and Sports in Schools & School Districts

As the tide of obesity continues to sweep over America's children, schools and school districts are joining the battle, when they can. The trend of ever-declining time devoted to physical education and recess has been repeatedly shown to be connected to poorer academic performance and worsening obesity rates among kids. While legislation has been introduced in many states to mandate time for physical education, many schools across the country are not meeting standards suggested by experts from associations such as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and others.

Coaches Need Training, Too

More than half (52.1 percent) of respondents working for schools and school districts indicated that their school required a coaching certification for some of its employees. In fact, training and certification for coaches is required in many states. The American Sport Education Program (ASEP), just one popular provider of coach education programs, works directly with more than 40 state high school associations to deliver its Professional Coaches Education Program to more than 25,000 coaches every year.

In January 2008, the Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA) board of directors voted to require that all members of a school's athletic coaching staff who do not hold valid teaching certificates must successfully complete an approved coaching education program. The courses approved as meeting the requirement include the ASEP's Coaching Essentials and Coaching Principles courses, which emphasize basic coaching principles, communication, motivation skills, safety and more.

"Educating coaches will help increase the likelihood that kids have positive sports experiences, and in turn increase the likelihood that kids stay in sports," said Lori Brown, ASEP sales and implementation manager.

For others looking for guidance on their youth sports programs, check out the recently updated National Standards for Youth Sports, compiled by the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS). The standards cover: quality sports environment, making sports participation a fun and balanced part of a child's life, providing training and accountability, implementing a screening process, getting parents involved, encouraging sportsmanship, providing a safe playing environment, offering equal opportunity to play, providing a drug-free environment. Focused more on volunteer coaches, the guideline still offers a valuable overview that can be applied to youth sports programs of all types. For more information, visit

About the Respondents

The vast majority of respondents who said they represented schools and school districts were from public institutions. Some 95.4 percent represented public schools. The remainder represented private schools.

Nearly half (49.7 percent) of the schools and school districts represented in the survey were located in rural communities. Just over a third (34.3 percent) were located in suburban communities, and just 16 percent were located in urban areas.

The respondents from schools and school districts were also most likely to be located in the Midwest. Some 44.7 percent of respondents in this category said they were from that region. The next largest group, 20.6 percent, was from the Northeast, followed by the South Central states (17 percent), the Western states (11.8 percent) and the South Atlantic states (5.9 percent).

While schools and school districts represented in the survey were less likely to partner with external organizations than park districts and YMCAs, such partnerships were still formed by the majority (80.4 percent) of respondents in this category. Their most common partners were with other local schools. Nearly half (46.8 percent) of school respondents said they had partnered with other local schools. Another 32.4 percent said they partnered with the local government, and 30.1 percent had partnered with nonprofit organizations. Nearly four out of five respondents also had partnered with colleges and universities or with YMCAs, YWCAs and JCCs.

In addition to employing more people than other types of organizations, schools and school districts in the survey were expecting the largest increase in the number of employees working for their facilities, jumping 86.1 percent from an average of 226.3 currently to 421.2 in 2011.

This increase will be driven by a 98.7 percent jump in the number of full-time employees working for school facilities, as well as a 78.9 percent jump in the number of volunteers employed. Schools and school districts employ fewer seasonal and part-time workers than many other types of facilities, and they are not expecting these numbers to increase substantially over the next several years.

The majority (92.2 percent) of respondents from schools and school districts said their facilities required certification of some kind. More than half of respondents in this category required a background check, a CPR, AED or First Aid certification, a teaching certification or a coaching certification. Just under a third required lifeguard certification.

Steady State

The majority of respondents from schools and school districts said the number of people using their facilities did not change from 2006 to 2007, and their revenues remained steady in that period as well. The majority also expects little change over the next several years.

While just under a quarter (73.5 percent) of respondents said the number of people using their facilities had remained the same from 2006 to 2007, more expect that number to remain unchanged between 2007 and 2009. Just 20.7 percent expect to see an increase from 2007 to 2008, with 78.4 percent projecting the numbers to remain even, while from 2008 to 2009, a full 80.7 percent of respondents expect no change in the number of people using their facilities.

Similar numbers are expecting no change to their revenues. From 2006 to 2007, just over three-quarters (75.7 percent) said their revenues had remained even, while 19.8 percent had seen an increase. From 2007 to 2008, 75.9 percent project even revenues, and from 2008 to 2009, 78.2 percent expect no change.

At the same time, respondents from schools and school districts are projecting an increase of 14 percent in their annual operating expenditures, from $1,018,700 in fiscal 2007 to a projected $1,161,200 in fiscal 2009, slightly greater than the 12.1 percent increase expected among all facility types.

Budgets were a top concern among respondents in this category, many of whom are looking to add programs or renovate facilities with no additional money coming in.

An equipment manager at a Massachusetts district said the budget was an issue due to maintenance and renovations. In particular, he was concerned about having the funds to upgrade a stadium from natural grass to turf, and then maintain that new field.

An executive director of the physical plant operations for a Florida school district said, "Budgetary concerns are particularly problematic. We are constantly being required to do more with less, and since we are adding pools, schools and playgrounds, we must staff the human infrastructure to maintain them. Our revenues are driven by property taxes, and as the property tax reform gains momentum, declining revenues will negatively affect facility conditions."

In fact, with schools in many states funded by property taxes, the recent decline in home prices, along with property tax reforms in many locales, could end up taking a toll on facility upkeep and programming—a concern reflected in many other respondents' comments.

Why P.E.?

An article in the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance's (AAHPERD) Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance cited the following 10 reasons for offering a top-quality physical education program:

  1. Regular activity can help prevent disease, including major chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.
  2. Regular activity can help kids develop a lifetime of wellness.
  3. Quality physical education can help schools fight obesity.
  4. Quality physical education can help lead kids to a lifetime of physical fitness.
  5. Quality physical education gives kids unique opportunities for activity (which many kids will fail to get outside the school day).
  6. Quality physical education teaches self-management and motor skills.
  7. Physical activity and physical education promote learning.
  8. The evidence shows that cutting PE to save money will actually cost more in the long term.
  9. Physical education is widely endorsed, by the American Academy of Pediatrics, by the American Heart Association, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, by the Centers for Disease Control, by the U.S. Department of Education, by the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness and more.
  10. Quality physical education helps educate the total child.

According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), the characteristics of quality physical education include: an opportunity to learn, with 150 minutes per week for elementary students and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students; meaningful content that not only gives kids the how, but also the why; and appropriate instruction that is inclusive, well-designed and includes regular assessments.

To learn a lot more about the value of physical education or to find the full text of the article cited here, visit

Facility Planning

Nearly 70 percent of respondents from schools and school districts indicated that there were plans in place to add new facilities, add to existing facilities or renovate existing facilities within the next three years. Just under 30 percent said they were planning to build new, while nearly a third (32.3 percent) were planning to make additions, and nearly half (49.7 percent) were planning renovations. (See Figure 50.)

The average amount budgeted for these construction plans among schools was $6,946,700, surpassed only by the plans of colleges and universities in our survey. (This is likely because many facilities planned include entire school buildings, rather than just recreational facilities.)

The most common amenities currently included in respondents' schools were what you might expect: gymnasiums and locker rooms for physical education, classrooms for general education and so on. More than 50 percent of respondents from schools and school districts indicated that their facility included locker rooms (80.3 percent), bleachers and seating (79.2 percent), classrooms and meeting rooms (70.5 percent), concession areas (66.5 percent), indoor sports courts and gymnasiums (65.3 percent), outdoor running tracks (65.3 percent), natural turf sports fields (61.3 percent), fitness centers (57.2 percent) and outdoor sports courts (54.3 percent). Nearly half (49.1 percent) also said they included playgrounds.

The top 10 amenities school respondents said their facilities were planning to add over the next three years included:

  1. Bleachers and seating
  2. Synthetic turf sports fields
  3. Fitness centers
  4. Locker rooms
  5. Classrooms or meeting rooms
  6. Natural turf sports fields
  7. Concession areas
  8. Outdoor running tracks
  9. Outdoor sports courts
  10. Playgrounds

Within their facilities, schools also offer the programs one would typically expect, including youth sports teams, daycare or preschool programs, sports tournaments and races, fitness programs and individual sports activities like running. The top 10 programs currently offered among schools in our survey were:

  1. Youth sports teams, offered by more than half (50.9 percent)
  2. Daycare and preschool programs, offered by more than half (50.9 percent)
  3. Sports tournaments and races, offered by nearly half (45.7 percent)
  4. Fitness programs, offered by more than a third (35.8 percent)
  5. Individual sports activities, offered by nearly a third (32.9 percent)
  6. Swimming (30.1 percent)
  7. Sport training (28.9 percent)
  8. Special needs programs (24.9 percent)
  9. Day camps and summer camps (24.3 percent)
  10. Performing arts (23.7 percent)

The programs most commonly planned for addition included:

  1. Youth sports
  2. Fitness
  3. Sports tournaments and races
  4. Sport training
  5. Day camps and summer camps

Youth sports and fitness both offer outlets to help combat the childhood obesity epidemic, cited as a concern by several respondents.

One athletic director from a school district in New York said, "BMIs for elementary students are very high. We are actively exploring resources to help combat this."

Another said childhood obesity was the top problem. "We don't currently offer these programs, and the schools appear to be cutting these programs due to budget cuts."

According to a 2000 study of public and private schools by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 8 percent of elementary schools, 6.4 percent of middle schools and 5.8 percent of high schools provided daily physical education.

This is despite the fact that recommendations from major medical associations such as the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that time spent in activity is critical to kids' health.

In a presentation before the 2008 National Convention of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), Cass Wheeler, CEO of the American Heart Association, revealed a statistic showing that enrollment of high school students in physical education had dropped from 41.6 percent in 1991 to just 28.4 percent in 2003.

She said that to ensure quality physical education is taught in the schools, each state should set strong physical education standards and hire a state-level PE coordinator so that all kids from kindergarten through graduation can get quality physical education while in school. She outlined some successes in states like Florida and Mississippi, which mandated 150 minutes per week of PE for K-5; in Illinois, which limited physical education waivers; in Mississippi and North Dakota, which require PE credits for graduation; and in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee, which created physical education coordinator positions.

Legislation has been proposed to amend the No Child Left Behind Act to help get kids more active and educate them on healthy food choices.

The National Association of State Boards of Education recommends 150 minutes per week of physical education for elementary students and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students. But according to the AAP, in a study of third-graders from 10 different sites, the mean duration of PE was just 33 minutes twice a week, with just 25 minutes per week at a moderate to vigorous intensity level.

This is despite the fact that a study from the American College of Sports Medicine, which examined activity and physical education as compared to academic achievement, showed that the kids involved in the most vigorous activity often had better grades.

"Physical education and activity during the school day may reduce boredom and help keep kids attention in the classroom," said Dawn Podulka Coe, Ph.D., the study's lead author. "We were expecting to find that students enrolled in PE would have better grades because of the opportunity to be active during the school day. But enrollment in PE alone did not influence grades. The students who performed better academically in this study were the most active, meaning those who participated in a sport or other vigorous activity at least three times a week."

Most of this vigorous activity took place outside of the classroom in youth sports. But since academic performance was favorably influenced by the activity, the researchers suggested incorporating vigorous activity into PE classes.

Cuts to recess are also detrimental to students' performance. According to the Rescuing Recess campaign, only eight state school boards of education have policies in place to protect recess in elementary schools. Separate from PE, which provides a more structured direction of activity, recess allows time for free play, which has been shown by multiple studies to provide emotional, cognitive, social and physical benefits to kids. National Recess Week, which takes place in September, helps raise awareness of these issues, and has received industry awards and honors from a variety of organizations.

Keep on the 'Grass'
18 Percent of Schools Plan to Add Synthetic Turf Fields

Synthetic turf sports fields were among the top plans of respondents from schools and school districts. While 19.7 percent said they currently have synthetic turf fields at their facilities, another 18 percent said they plan to add synthetic fields within the next three years.

The benefits of synthetic turf for playing fields at schools—which often must accommodate physical education classes, team practice and team play, in addition to other activities—are undeniable.

"The escalating need for durable fields that accommodate multiple sports teams, coupled with increasing maintenance, water usage costs and climatic shifts, have prompted a rising number of schools and parks to turn to synthetic turf to balance their program needs," states the Synthetic Turf Council (STC) on its Web site. "Today's synthetic turf is designed to stimulate the experience of practicing and playing on a grass-like surface year-round."

The STC adds that more than 800 multi-use synthetic turf sports fields are installed every year in North American schools, colleges, parks and sports stadiums, and about half of all NFL teams play on synthetic turf.

Recently raised concerns about the safety of synthetic turf due to suspected high lead levels are unfounded, according to the STC. David Black, Ph.D., a forensic toxicologist, and Davis Lee, Ph.D. a synthetic organic chemist, both assert that there's no scientific evidence of any health risk related to three older synthetic turf fields recently closed in New Jersey.

Concerning absorption of lead chromate by the body, the STC stated that trace amounts of lead exist in everyday products, and the key issue is ensuring that quantities of lead that could be harmful are not absorbed. "Used to extend the yarn color lifespan in some synthetic turf products, lead chromate is encapsulated in plastic to prevent any health risks."

To learn more about synthetic turf, visit

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