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No excuses! ASU physical activity courses make fitness doable

November 20, 2013

When was the last time you tried a new sport or physical activity just for fun – no up-front financial investment or long-term commitment required? Students who enroll in Arizona State University’s new physical activity course (PAC) program can choose from a wide range of traditional and trendy course options while receiving academic credit at the same time.

“Our PAC mission is to create a lifelong love of physical activity for ASU students,” said Janet Barrone, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College physical education faculty member and coordinator of the PAC program. “So we search for instructors who are experts in their field and who demonstrate a passion for the sport they teach. For example, our archery instructor is an ex-Olympic coach and for racquetball, we have a national champion. This is the level of instruction we offer.”

But students need not have Olympic-worthy skills to sign up for a PAC course. Far from it, noted ASU’s Justin Kern, program coordinator for aquatics and safety education, and PAC swimming instructor at Sun Devil Fitness Complex in Tempe.

“We teach all types of swimmers,” he said. “At the beginning, I had bubble blowers who were afraid to put their faces in the water. We taught them the basics of how to swim. For others who swam when they were younger, we helped them rebuild motor skills they haven’t had for years.

“Last semester, we started out asking students to attempt to swim 300 yards. I had some who were only able to walk that distance in the shallow end. By the end of the semester, however, those same students were swimming 1,500 yards in every class.”

Likewise, Barrone emphasized that “beginners are welcome” in any of the PAC program classes. Because the program is housed in ASU’s Teachers College, she said, the focus is on learning the sport or activity, not on competing. She added that as the program grows, ASU faculty and staff, as well as students, are being encouraged to sign up for the PAC courses.

As for course difficulty, Barrone explained that as each sport or activity is introduced, it is designed with a level-one expertise. As the program expands, so will the number of advanced course offerings that require higher skill levels.

“So an individual can begin a new activity, and if they enjoy it, they can continue on,” she explained. “At the same time, if they decide to join in league play or intramurals, it makes it so much easier because we equip them with the skills to compete.”

Currently, the new PAC program offers a dozen one- and two-credit activity courses open to all ASU students, faculty and staff for the Spring 2014 semester: archery, basketball, core fitness, flag football, golf, group spin, karate, lifeguard training, racquetball, soccer, strength conditioning and swimming. The courses meet 14 times during a seven-and-a-half week period. And students can repeat a course if they like. The classes can be found under PPE 294 in ASU’s course catalog.

For the Fall 2014 semester, the PAC options will continue to multiply and include these new courses: dance (modern and jazz), Pilates, pickleball, racquetball (advanced), softball, softball umpiring training, table tennis, TRX suspension training, yoga flow and hike, walk and jog for fitness. Happily, the PAC program also will expand next fall to ASU’s West campus to take advantage of its all-new Sun Devil Fitness Complex and several outdoor fields, Barrone said.

She noted that for ASU students taking at least 15 credit hours, the additional one or two credits for a PAC course are essentially a no-cost option. Students also learn the theory behind the sport or activity, aimed at helping them make health-enhancing physical activity a part of daily life. Going forward, the PAC program plans to partner with ASU’s Well Devils program to encourage students to take pride in their health and well-being, Barrone added.

Mike McAllister, ASU graduate student majoring in math education, confirms that taking PAC courses has turned out to be a life-changing decision. Since they were first offered last fall, he has taken swimming twice, as well as racquetball and introduction to weight lifting.

“If I don’t take one of these classes every semester, I can be pretty sedentary and just sit around,” he explained. “I’m really big on these! I love them because they get me away from my desk.”

When McAllister took swimming for the first time last spring, he had not been swimming in 30 years. “I didn’t forget how. I just couldn’t swim back and forth without stopping. I started out swimming the 300 in 16 minutes and ended up doing it in seven.”

In addition to time in the pool, McAllister and other students kept a fitness log at the request of instructor Kern: “I liked it because you had to track everything you were eating,” the student said. “When I started noticing I was eating more calories than I was burning, I told myself, ‘No wonder I’m gaining weight!’”

According to Teachers College professor Hans van der Mars, long ago ASU offered a similar program that included a variety of one-hour physical education classes. For much of the 20th century, in fact, many universities required all students to take as many as eight or 10 of these one-hour courses, he said. In the last 30 years, however, most universities have made these courses electives instead.

“Well-designed programs like ASU’s, which offer a broad spectrum of activity courses, will draw large numbers of students each semester,” van der Mars said. “The difference is that students choose to sign up for them and thus include physical activity in their weekly schedule.”

Van der Mars and Barrone intend to revive ASU’s legacy and build upon it, reflecting a trend among the nation’s larger universities to offer basic physical activity instruction programs: “ASU should be part of the effort to get people who come to universities to also build physical activity into their daily lives,” he said. “And that’s part of an even bigger effort to get this country moving again.”