“We have 18 and 19-year-old kids coming into basic training that can’t skip or perform a forward roll…They have not learned the motor patterns to execute these basic movements,” Frank Palkoska, Chief of US Army’s Physical Fitness Training School.
Movement/exercise/fitness all require a high level of skill. One of the best ways to acquire skills is through deliberate practice. This means you focus on the task at hand and perform it in a variety of ways, trying to figure out how to make the skill more effortless. When I was a child, there were certain skills underneath the umbrella of play that I would practice (when my nose wasn’t stuck in a book). Things like pulling myself up on top of counters, cartwheels, climbing haystacks, and somersaulting off diving boards were all play skills that I practiced, tirelessly, when I was a little girl. This was the late 80s early 90s. Play was encouraged, organized sports weren’t a huge part of our lives, and video games were just becoming all of the rage. And so, to amuse ourselves, we played and tried to get better at our play. It was free form, with no clear lines. No one told us how to get better at the skills we practiced; we just tried it as many different ways as we could think of until it started to become easier, and even then we would go back to the other ways once in a while because it was fun.
In the circles I follow, those crazy fitness peeps have been murmuring for years that the loss of free play will have long term health consequences as children become adults. It is unfortunate that it takes becoming a national security issue for this topic to get widespread attention. While the long term affects of lack of play transcend the ability to complete army obstacle courses, perhaps that needs to be the starting point for awareness.
*To read the full article on military fitness, see below.