Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Cadets' Perceptions of Gymnastics Instruction for Officer Development

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Cadets' Perceptions of Gymnastics Instruction for Officer Development

Article excerpt

The United States Military Academy has offered gymnastics instruction since 1838. Gymnastics continues to be an integral component of the physical education curriculum. The purpose of this study was to investigate cadets' perceptions of their experiences in a required gymnastics course using the critical incident technique. Students described experiences in the gymnastics class that they believed had a positive or negative influence on their development as cadets and future Army officers. Key elements of their responses were classified into 16 positively perceived and 11 negatively perceived categories. The top positive categories were confidence, encouragement, fear management, modeling, additional instruction, and teamwork. The top negative categories included lack of time, helplessness, discouragement, lack of relevance, unfair grading, and injury. Key Words: Military Instruction, Student Perceptions, Critical Incident, United States Military Academy, Cadet, Physical Readiness Training, Gymnastics, and Motor Fitness


Nearly every war involving Americans has started with a defense force physically unprepared for the rigors of combat. During World War I, approximately one third of the men drafted for military service were found to be unfit for combat. After World War II, it was reported that half of all draftees were rejected or given non-combat positions because of poor physical fitness (Barrow & Brown, 1988; Oxendine, 1985; Wuest & Bucher, 1995). These and other military conflicts had a major impact on the status of physical education and physical fitness in the United States because military leaders realized that the lack of fitness would adversely affect soldiers' abilities to be successful in combat. The lack of fitness of men drafted for military service during the World Wars resulted in many colleges and universities requiring physical education activity courses for all students. These mandatory activity courses were often referred to as the "service," "general," or "basic instruction" programs (Barrow & Brown, 1988; Oxendine, 1985; Wuest & Bucher, 1995). Oxendine stated,

   Although physical education leaders would have preferred that basic
   instruction be established for its own worth, and not as a basis for
   war-preparedness, it cannot be denied that the World Wars created a
   receptive climate for physical education and conditioning (p. 33).

In the 1950's, the lack of physical fitness among Americans prompted President Eisenhower to establish the President's Council on Youth Fitness, which President Kennedy later renamed the President's Council on Physical Fitness (Powers & Howley, 1997).

While most colleges and universities have reduced or eliminated basic instruction programs because of budgetary restraints, curricular restructuring, and lack of institutional support due to academics, the United States Military Academy (USMA) continues to require physical education activity courses for all students because of its specialized physical outcome goals. The basic instruction program at the USMA, which includes gymnastics, swimming and survival swimming, boxing for men and self-defense for women, combatives, and a variety of lifetime sports is an integral component of each cadet's required physical experiences. Cadets learn basic movement skills that will prepare them for an active military, professional, and personal lifestyle. The physical program provides future officers with the physical skills, self-confidence, and knowledge needed to be successful in their careers in the Army and beyond.

Functional fitness for soldiers includes not only the health-related components of fitness: cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition, but also the motor fitness components of agility, balance, power, and coordination. Post-war Army Physical Readiness Training (APRT) programs, initiated to improve civilian and soldier physical fitness levels, are often ineffective because many youth deemed acceptable for military service from a health standpoint still lack the basic motor fitness and psychological discipline necessary for combat readiness (Krause, 2001; Thomas, 2000). …

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