ERIC Identifier: ED351320 Publication Date: 1992-11-00
Author: Zak, Janet L. - Sullivan, Patricia Source: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Teacher Education Washington DC.
Alternative Career Paths in Physical Education: Fitness and
Exercise. ERIC Digest.
During the past 20 years, alternative professional preparation and
certification programs have expanded within the field of physical education.
Societal trends, the media, and demographics have dictated these changes. For
example, a decline in the number of students attending grades K-12 has decreased
the need for physical education teachers (Freeman, 1987). Fewer school systems
today require physical education (Newell, 1990), yet Americans are increasingly
interested in maintaining health and fitness into adulthood. Even the term
"physical education," has gone through a transformation. Newell (1990)
identified almost 70 different academic department labels in the area of
physical education, including exercise and sport sciences, kinesiology, health
promotion and human performance, and sport fitness and leisure studies. This
Digest will examine the factors which lead to an increase in the scope of career
opportunities for physical education professionals and look at future trends,
including a move back toward traditional teaching positions.
DEVELOPMENT OF CAREER PATHS
Prior to the 1970s, physical
education professionals were primarily channeled into the traditional roles of
physical education teacher and/or coach. In 1970, Kenneth H. Cooper introduced
The Aerobics Way to the general public, addressing the benefits of exercise as a
lifetime activity. Jackie Sorenson (aerobic dance) and Jim Fixx (running) were
also physical activity pioneers in the early 1970s and helped to further that
idea. Within the next few years, jobs began to emerge in health clubs and
corporate fitness facilities (Jacoby, 1990).
With the advancement of technological resources and time-saving devices,
available time for leisure and recreation increased from an average of 34 hours
per week in 1965 to an average of 41 hours per week for males and 40 for females
in 1985 (Cutler, 1990). Facilities opened that gave the public a means and place
Organizations such as the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport
helped encourage the American population to spend leisure time pursuing lifetime
physical fitness. Corporations and health maintenance organizations (HMOs)
discovered the link between fitness and health, and employer-sponsored
facilities began to proliferate (Seefeldt & Vogel, 1986). Hospitals began to
conduct wellness programs.
This growth of fitness facilities and programs resulted in additional jobs
for exercise and sport professionals as exercise specialists, corporate fitness
directors, wellness consultants, and coordinators (Jacoby, 1990; Nieman, 1990).
A need for additional physical education professionals in these alternative
career areas was created.
The media also had a profound influence on the broadening of physical
education career opportunities. With the advent of satellite capabilities and
the increase in cable television stations such as Home Team Sports, ESPN, and
local cable networks, the media has become a major factor in shaping and molding
America's increased acceptance of exercise and physical activity (Spears,
Swanson, & Smith, 1978). The media has given the public an entirely new
perspective on exercise and physical activity in terms of acceptability and job
EMERGENCE OF PROFESSIONAL PREPARATION AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS
As job opportunities expanded, knowledge increased, and
equipment became more sophisticated, there was a greater need for specialists
who could put theory into practice. The ability to draw knowledge from strong
scientific foundations continues to be paramount as students prepare for careers
in exercise and sport.
Courses such as anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, kinesiology, and
other courses in the study of human movement have provided these scientific
foundations. In addition, students began to need specialization in a specific
aspect of exercise and sport such as cardiac rehabilitation and sports marketing
Due to the variety of academic programs available, in 1988 the National
Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), an association of the
American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance
(AAHPERD), developed specific academic standards for students preparing for
careers in exercise and sport. These standards provide students "with entry
level skills and knowledge to competently function in a wide range of fitness
employment opportunities" (Arnold et al., 1988). In addition to the Standards
for Programs Preparing Undergraduate Students for Careers in Fitness, NASPE has
compiled a listing of academic programs in exercise and sport (Blanke &
Along with college- and university-based professional preparation programs,
many professional organizations now provide exercise and sport credentialing
opportunities (Nieman, 1990; Summerfield, 1991). Examples of such organizations
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Box 1440, Indianapolis, IN
American Council on Exercise (ACE, formerly IDEA) 2431 Morena Boulevard,
Suite 2-D, San Diego, CA 92110
Association for Fitness in Business (AFB) 965 Hope Street, Stamford, CT 06907
National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) 1001 East 4th Street,
Greenville, NC 27834
National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) 3101 Park Center Drive,
Alexandria, VA 22302
National Strength and Conditioning Association P.O. Box 81410, Lincoln, NE
RENEWED INTEREST IN TEACHER CERTIFICATION
As with most
occupations, projections for physical education career opportunities are largely
dependent upon future trends and national economic forecasts. The increase in
nonteaching job opportunities coupled with a decrease in the number of available
teaching positions has resulted in a movement away from the traditional physical
education teaching major. This trend, in conjunction with cuts in physical
education programs due to budget constraints, meant that large numbers of
physical education teachers left teaching.
However, even though there is still a shift away from the traditional
physical education major, it is important to note that students who have already
earned a degree are beginning to return to school for teacher education
certification. There appear to be three reasons. First, the nonteaching exercise
and sport job market has become so heavily saturated that job opportunities are
not as plentiful today. Second, physical education teachers who have been
teaching for 20 or 30 years are beginning to retire, and there will be a gradual
increase in the number of physical education teaching positions available. And
third, in some non-teaching careers there is no career ladder. There is
potential for a shortage of physical educators as a result of the small pool of
students being certified to teach physical education (Gerald & Hussar,
1990), although this shortage may be keener in specific geographic areas.
There are additional factors influencing the return to traditional teaching
positions. In 1990 the Public Health Service of the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services established 16 health and fitness objectives for the year
2000. One of the objectives is to "increase to at least 60% the proportion of
people age 6 and older who participate in moderate physical activities...3 or
more days per week for 20 minutes or more per occasion" (Public Health Service,
1990). This may have a positive impact on the number of school systems requiring
physical education. Because the largest growing segment of the American
population is adults over the age of 65 (Public Health Service, 1990), there
will be an ever increasing need to provide people with opportunities to exercise
throughout the life span (Nieman, 1990).
The challenge for physical education
professionals and those who prepare them is to provide the knowledge necessary
to be at the forefront of change. Emphasis must be placed on continued study of
present trends and forecasts and their relationship to physical activity
careers. The public's pursuit of a healthy lifestyle through physical activity
will be best served if exercise and sport professionals are leading, rather than
reacting to, the latest trends. Examples of some present trends that may have an
impact on curriculum development include: aging of the population, more at-risk
children in the school system, increased use of computers. While emphasis has
been placed on nontraditional physical education careers, it is also important
to continue a focus on traditional teaching and coaching opportunities.
References identified with an ED number
(documents) have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database. Documents are
available in ERIC microfiche collections at more than 700 locations. Documents
can also be ordered through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service: (800)
443-ERIC. For more information, contact the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher
Education, One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036; (202)
Arnold, W. B., Baun, W. B., Bischoff, J., Blanke, D., Considine, B., &
Pfeiffer, G. (1988). Standards for programs preparing undergraduate students for
careers in fitness. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical
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