PE Teachers as Health Coaches

Health coach.  It’s a term used by almost everyone in the health, fitness, and wellness field to describe what they do or their actual title.  A health coach is not a graduate of any college or university, nor is it required to be certified in any type of health, fitness, or wellness training.  One vital occupation that fills the role of a health coach and gets none of the credit is a PE teacher.

In theory, and not always practice, a PE teacher is your first experience with anyone knowledgeable in health, fitness, sports, and wellness.  The elementary school PE teacher provides kids their initial dive into what being a healthy and fit person means.  Doing the job correctly means being a healthy and fit person yourself as a role model, and consistently learning how to make a larger impact on the health, fitness, and wellness of your students.  Unfortunately, this view is not currently taken by PE teachers, administrators, parents, and students.

From a business standpoint, many network marketing companies instruct their distributors to label themselves as health coaches to describe their work in selling nutritional supplements.  Yes, I have worked in that business arena extensively in the past.  Truthfully, a network marketer has more nutrition education and information than a PE teacher, which is extremely sad!  PE teachers receive minimal to no education and professional development about nutrition and healthy eating to share with their students.  Have you seen the childhood obesity problem?  The lack of education given to kids is a significant part of the problem as they become adults with buying power.  The CDC says barely 56% of health teachers across the United States even receive professional development on nutrition at all.  FYI, health teacher and PE teacher are not always the same person.

My company Movement Academy recently conducted a PD for a New Orleans area school district’s PE teachers.  As a personal trainer I can give guidelines and general facts about healthy eating and macro nutrients, but no specific diet recommendations.  The teachers in our sessions were generally clueless about healthy eating and discussed little to nothing with their students.  They all agreed overweight and poorly fueled kids are an issue yet didn’t think their jobs were to give students any insight.  That blew my mind!  Physical education is not about dodge ball, kickball, and only sports.  Healthy eating is crucial to overall physical fitness and on the same level as teaching movement skills before sports skills.

Here’s a thought, change the title from elementary school PE teacher to elementary school health coach.  Make it incentive pay based on health assessments and indicators of the students in a school.  Who cares how far a kid can throw the football, what is his disease risk factors score.  Is he a candidate for type 2 diabetes and heart disease?  The health coach not doing his or her job doesn’t receive the top pay.  That’ll get some of the roll out the ball PE teachers actually doing their job!  The teachers may even speak up and have their school leadership pay for worthwhile professional development to help them hit their incentives.  And oh btw, academic performance and attendance just tripled while behavioral issues dropped by 50% under such a program.

“Hi, kids!  I’m Mr. Matt, your health coach this year.  We are starting every class with a cheer about healthy eating.  After that we are learning some awesome skills together so you can have more fun and energy!  First, everyone has to smile and be ready to move.  Ready, here we go!”

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