Physical education in the Soviet Union--a follow-up Physical education in the Soviet Union--a follow-up

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Thread: Physical education in the Soviet Union--a follow-up

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    Default Physical education in the Soviet Union--a follow-up

    This is a follow-up to this thread (which I read about in Mean Ol' Mr. Gravity)--it does not seem to have been revisited. I actually happen to have some inside knowledge of how PE was organized in the Soviet Union, so I thought I would share.

    Soviet children had to meet a certain level of fitness to get a passing grade in PE class. This included pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, a 60 meter sprint, the high jump and the long jump, rope climbing, and a tennis ball throw. Both boys and girls were expected to do all of the exercises, though the expectations were different for girls--incline pull-ups (reverse rows) were substituted for strict pull-ups, and knee push-ups were allowed, and standards were a bit lower for running and jumping. In order to get a grade of 5 (A) in PE, you had to do a certain number of reps in each strength exercise and make a certain speed in the speed exercises--the standards were set at the national level. These standards increased progressively each year--the 60 meter dash was replaced with a 100 meter dash, 400 meter runs were added, and so on.

    If the school had access to a ski track or an ice rink, the PE classes moved outdoors for the winter. You would lug your cross-country skis to school twice a week and go into the woods for the duration of the class, and do your 1 or 2 km race. You practiced for a while and then did a race to get your grade for the course--that was the exam. In warmer areas without snow, other sports such as bicycling and swimming were practiced outside.

    As you can see, the focus was mostly on track-and-field stuff and body weight strength. This was basic physical education, not a system set up to feed gymnastics and Olympic lifting training. For these more specialized sports, kids were recruited. My sister and I were both recruited for a basketball team. I was approached by a volleyball recruit on the subway later and explained that I was already playing basketball. I remember recruits coming in to test shoulder flexibility for swimming. Smaller stature kids with natural flexibility were drafted into gymnastics. All of the training was done on an extracurricular basis--I had to commute to basketball practice, and in the summer, there was sports camp where you did nothing but sleep, eat, and train. Regular, non-sports summer camps also ran some track-and-field competitions, and they gave out medals to top jumpers and runners.

    In about 4th or 5th grade, one could take a test for a GTO badge ("gotov k trudu i oborone", or "Ready for Labor and Defense"). This fitness cert required passing higher benchmarks than those required for an A grade.

    Primary and secondary schools in the Soviet Union were run on a centralized model, in contrast to the school district-level management and funding you find in the US. So all of the children had to meet the standards, and the schools received the funding to equip gyms. There were no school varsity teams for sports like soccer or hockey--the funding went to equipping gyms and to finance more specialized extracurricular training.

    Sports received thorough TV coverage. Olympic lifting championships were on TV constantly, and you got to see the entire competition beginning to end. Everyone knew what the snatch and the clean and jerk referred to, and events such as the shot put were no mystery to the Soviet public.

    Oh, and they taught us how to shoot. There was a shooting range in the basement of the school, and everyone got some target practice. The GTO requirements for older kids included good marksmanship. Teenage boys received more training, but both boys and girls knew how to handle a rifle.

    And we still lost the Cold War. Go figure.

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    Yeah, since the war was Cold. Thankfully.

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    Any more resources on how kids were selected for sports? I have a ten year old who is extremely tall, lean, muscular, wide clavicles, and fast twitch. Too tall and lanky for gymnastics or weightlifting, but that kind of build. Team sports are out because he has aspergers syndrome. What sort of individual sport might he be a candidate for?

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    Weightlifting is a perfect sport for a kid with Aspergers. Put some weight on him.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FatButWeak View Post
    Any more resources on how kids were selected for sports? I have a ten year old who is extremely tall, lean, muscular, wide clavicles, and fast twitch. Too tall and lanky for gymnastics or weightlifting, but that kind of build. Team sports are out because he has aspergers syndrome. What sort of individual sport might he be a candidate for?
    There is a new book out called The Sports Gene that you might want to take a look at. There is more to it than build and fast twitch muscle fibers. How much training/beating your body can take is a major variable--you can't be a boxer if you have a glass jaw. And whether it's sports or something else, most people don't get good at things they do not enjoy doing. So I suspect that you won't be able to predict based on his build alone which sports he would be good at.

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    Oh, I forgot to mention that there were more specialized "sports schools" at the secondary level, not unlike the vocational schools you occasionally still find in the US. There were specialized secondary schools with other foci--physics, math, foreign languages, and so on. You find some remnants of this approach in Russian immigrant communities--in the Boston area, Russians took matters into their own hands and established an extracurricular math school because they were dissatisfied with the level of math education in American schools. Anyway, you had to be pretty good at your sport to get into a sports school. Perhaps you would be especially likely to go to such a school if you were not well endowed academically. You trained pretty much full time.

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    Once he gets strong some of the field sports like shotput and discus could serve him well. Any of the martial arts are also individual activities.

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    As a special education teacher, I've often dreamed of being able to get my students with Aspergers under the bar. I believe it could be beneficial to their overall balance, posture and gross motor coordination.

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    I remember those days. PE in high school, which was grades 9-11 was even more hardcore, and involved gymnastics, and basic military prep such as throwing dud grenades for a grade.

    In the 7th grade, from what I recall, to get an A you had to do 8 pull-ups. Mind you, chin-ups were not allowed. You had to climb a metal pole inside the gymnasium to the top, it was about 30 feet high (there was a mat about 2 inches thick to catch you should you fall). You had to perform a front roll on a mat, without your head touching the mat, and with a landing on both of your feet so you can stand up. You had to perform a backwards roll, also with the requirement of landing on your feet and standing up cleanly. You had to perform a run and jump into a side roll, also cleanly. You had to sprint, run 1km, play soccer, basketball, and dodgeball, all for a grade. This is all middle school, which is as high as I got while over there. Good times.

    Interesting thing is, I was in this extracurricular weight lifting class, from age 9 to 11, and I don't remember ever touching a machine. I was taught to do pull-ups, push-ups, barbell bench press, dumbbell shoulder press, EZ bar curls, barbell squats (I think I did ~65lb for reps), rope climbing, etc., in fact, there were barely any machines at the gym. My proudest childhood lift was a 24kg bench press, for 2-4 (I think it was 4, but I don't recall exactly) reps, at a body-weight of around 25kg, at the age of 10. However, I really sucked at pull-ups. While I could do 7 chin-ups, I could only do 1-2 pull-ups. Yeah, the pull-up part of PE sucked back then.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Rippetoe View Post
    Weightlifting is a perfect sport for a kid with Aspergers. Put some weight on him.
    I have a son with Aspergers. Would you be kind enough to expound a bit on your thoughts. I would deeply appreciate it.

    Quote Originally Posted by jedomann View Post
    As a special education teacher, I've often dreamed of being able to get my students with Aspergers under the bar. I believe it could be beneficial to their overall balance, posture and gross motor coordination.
    I agree. I am very intrigued. I know lifting has helped my balance and coordination quite a bit--and I was pretty good to start with. This could be a God send for them.

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