Physical Education Before World War II (Inclusive)

The Spartans and Athenians were the first to have a type of physical education. Though very different, both systems served the people and supplied their needs. The Spartan system was similar to dictatorship, a form of government. At the age of seven, boys were taken to learn basic military skills while living in barracks. When they reached the age of fourteen, they began learning group fighting tactics which would allow them to succeed while in the military from the ages of twenty to thirty.

Once thirty, the men could then marry a women who had been doing some training of her own in order to make strong babies.

The philosophy of the Spartans was basically to allow them to invade other countries if desired, and to prevent other countries from invading them. The philosophy of the Athenians was quite different compared to the Spartans. The Athenian culture was very democratic, and focused on training of the mind and body. Reading and writing was a large part of society as well as physical activity which took place in the center of the city where the gymnasium was located.

The physical education philosophy of the Athenians was the high point of physical education for many years.

Some other cycles in physical education that we have evolved from are that of the Romans, the dark ages, and the crusades. The Roman era is a bit disturbing, but is nonetheless a cycle of physical education. Physical education for the Romans was about athletics, which was primarily about entertainment.

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People were forced to fight to the death, and oftentimes fed to lions. During the dark ages, religion viewed physical education as a waste of time and a work of the devil. The dark ages were a very sedentary time for human civilization.

Following the dark ages in approximately 1096, were the crusades. The crusades were a time of muscular Christianity, because of the Muslims conquering Jerusalem. Muscular Christianity is basically Christians believing that the more one trained to become good soldiers, the more Christian a person was. In 1270, the crusades ended and so did the thought of physical education being worthwhile until approximately 1400 when the renaissance period began. Physical education during the renaissance period is quite similar to physical education today.

It is done to better oneself, not to be doing something for someone else. The development of physical education had another setback in the 1600’s when it was very functional and not a priority. People believed that if it did not have a specific purpose, than it was a waste of time. During the 1700’s, there was a big change in physical education that can be largely attributed to three people: Rousseau, Johan Simon, and Guts Muths. Rousseau was the first person to promote education for the masses and he also thought of play as being educational.

In 1712, Rousseau invented an activity that is still used by millions of children everyday, recess. Johan Simon was the first physical education teacher and believed physical education should be taught along with reading and writing. Simon believed physical education should include a lot of physical labor. Guts Muths developed a series of gymnastic apparatuses and believed physical education developed very important social skills. These people of the 1700’s and the things they did began paving the road to where we are today.

During the 1800’s, physical education programs were finding their way into universities which contributed to many things we have today. New sports were being invented, intramurals were being brought into schools, women began exercising, gymnasiums could be found in most colleges, and many recreational areas and parks were being built in order to decrease the crime rate. This continued on into the 1900’s which brought on the creation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association to regulate college athletics, and the golden age of sports during the 20? and 30’s.

During this golden age of sport, the number of people in sport increased dramatically, the number of teachers increased, and physical education began moving toward the involvement of sport. In 1941, World War II began which brought a big shock along with it. Of the first 2 million males drafted, 45% failed their physical. With this, physical education began to be very strongly pushed in schools in order to improve the health of the American people.


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Physical Education Before World War II (Inclusive). (2018, Aug 10). Retrieved from

Physical Education Before World War II (Inclusive)
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