BELDING — The first 10 minutes of a middle school physical education class, a time set aside for stretching and preparing for activities, are not always the most exciting, but at Belding Middle School students now eagerly wait to see what warm-up routine is coming their way.
Consisting of stretching, balancing, running, jumping and other exercises to loosen up one’s muscles, warming up can be considered an annoyance or a chore when a basket of balls is waiting for you on the other side of the gym.
But thanks to the Hopsports Mini Training System recently implemented at Belding Middle School, students now start their class by following along with a virtual instructor to as many as 50 different warm-up routines.
Soccer, football, volleyball, karate — virtual exercise routines associated with these sports and others have students sprinting to the front of the gymnasium to see which category physical education teacher Andrew Feuerstein will choose for the day.
“Warm-ups are no longer just warm-ups, they are now fun and creative,” Feuerstein said. “There’s so much more to explore we probably haven’t even used a quarter of the exercises available to us. We’ve only scratched the surface.”
Thanks to physical education teacher Jennifer DiSpirito’s efforts and affiliation with the NFL Fuel Up to Play program, the Hopsports Mini Training System was funded completely by Fuel Up to Play.
“With everything included, the videos, the projector, the computer — it came out to about $10,000,” DiSpirito said. “I had to do a number of qualifying activities to be put into a drawing to receive this system, but in the end Belding Middle School was selected along with just two other schools in the state of Michigan.”
Feuerstein and DiSpirito start each class by selecting several 2-minute videos for the students to follow. A projector displays the video on a large enough screen for every student to see in the front of the gymnasium. A virtual instructor then performs whichever activity has been selected and students follow along by mimicking the movements they see on the screen.
Feuerstein and DiSpirito are free to walk around the gymnasium as students exercise along with the video, allowing for one-on-one instruction with students who may be struggling with the current exercise being performed on the screen.
“Students are so busy focusing on the screen we can help students who may be struggling without singling them out,” Feuerstein said. “This system is a great motivator and the students learn very well from a visual standpoint.”
DiSpirito said the new system doesn’t take any time away from the current physical education curriculum, it just replaces the previous time set aside for warm-up activities.
“We use it mostly for warm-up routines,” she said. “If we’re working on volleyball for the day, we’ll use the Hopsports System to warm up with a few volleyball videos. We still have our original physical education curriculum, this just adds to it. It’s a supplemental tool.”
For sixth grade student Margaret Walker, 11, the chance to practice basic karate skills has made her physical education class much more exciting.
“I like it way better than before,” she said. “The activities are more fun. You don’t normally get to do karate in gym, but you do now when it’s up on the screen. It’s a lot of work and you get really sweaty, but it’s fun.”
Sixth grade student Jenisa Henry, 11, believes the new system has made performing the exercises easier while also making them more fun.
“We do volleyball exercises, football exercises and warm up playing fun games,” she said. “It’s easier when you see them doing it on the screen rather than just having someone tell you to do it.”
Feuerstein said he has already noticed an improvement in some students who have benefited from the new style of exercise.
“We’ve seen an improvement in the student’s abilities and warm up preparation, but that’s expected when they are following along with an expert,” he said. “I’m not trained to warm the students up with martial arts activities, but by following along with the video, students here are experiencing those kind of activities on a regular basis.”
But most importantly, Feuerstein said the new system keeps students engaged in a creative way that cannot be duplicated with just one or two instructors.
“If I want to have the kids work on balance, I can make them do so, but I can’t be as creative as making the kids believe they are balancing on a roller coaster, as is done in one of the videos,” he said.