No More Choosing Sides in Gym Class


By Celeste Beley

Whether you are a top-notch athlete or someone who would prefer an art class over gym, most of us share the dread that comes when it’s time to pick teams for that dodgeball or kickball tournament. Some teachers may have moved away from the “team captain” system, but being chosen for a new team can still create anxiety. An education professor at Brigham Young University is studying how students experience gym class — more specifically, how playing music and choosing teams can affect them.

Picking Sides

In The Physical Educator, David Barney, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, published a study after observing junior high boys pick teams. He observed that publicly choosing teams does not influence the team’s performance, but can have an emotional impact on each student.

Team-picking has been a standard practice for gym classes, but the negative effects continue. Most of the kids interviewed said that they didn’t like the process, although most were willing to go with whatever the teacher planned. When asked two days later, few could recall which team won, but they still remembered the negative feelings they had when teams were chosen.

Barney has proposed that teams should be chosen privately and by the teacher. This enables students to work and play with classmates that may not be in their circle of friends. And since the teacher assigns the teams, they don’t feel ashamed or excluded and therefore perceive the process to be fairer.  

Music and Sports

In a separate study published in the International Journal of Physical Education, Barney found that that gym is 5.87 times more enjoyable when music is being played. Imagine being hit in the face by a dodgeball and then hearing Taylor Swift tell you to “Shake it Off.” Would it make your recovery a little easier? Probably.

Besides the mental motivation, the music also provides physical motivation. “When the music is on, I just feel like dancing all the time,” one student said in an interview. Other students felt that the music kept them motivated and inspired them to work harder. We know what music pumps us up, but the research found that contemporary songs, with approximately 120 to 160 beats per minute, are best for a gym class setting.

The ultimate goal of physical education classes is to develop a commitment to personal physical health.  Background music and teacher-determined teams are two methods that can help kids have positive experiences in their gym classes and lead to that lifelong commitment.

Discussion Questions

  • Discuss your own experiences in physical fitness classes. Do you think teacher-chosen teams have better results than publicly chosen teams?
  • Does the type of music have an effect on your physical activity?  Discuss various styles of music and how they affect your physical activity.
Create two separate playlists of songs for a physical fitness class using the parameters discussed in the article: one featuring songs of 120-160 beats per minute, and one featuring songs with less than 120 beats per minute. On separate days, play those songs for a gym class and then interview the participants to determine which playlist they felt motivated them more. Collect physical activity data from personal fitness trackers and compare.