Kids get PE tutors for a competitive edge

by Yo Nakai

Kyodo News

It’s not enough to have a math or English tutor anymore.

Private physical education lessons are growing in popularity in big cities where parents worry their children don’t have enough time or space to exercise outside of school.

In Tokyo, Osaka and other big cities, PE tutors are available for about 5,000 yen an hour. They offer a range of programs for elementary school-aged children, from swimming and running to gymnastics, claiming the extra lessons will help the kids do better in their school PE classes.

Sporty-One Corp. in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward has classes at its studio and its PE experts make house calls or visit parks and swimming pools.

One 8-year-old girl from Shinagawa Ward didn’t like her school’s PE classes when she came to Sporty-One. But after attending lessons at the sports cram school, she finished first in short-distance running in the school athletic meet.

“She seems to be gaining confidence in herself since she achieved success” at the meet, her mother, 44, said.

“Opportunities for children to move their bodies are declining as their parents are busy and many of them have no brothers and sisters to play with,” said Tomoko Nomura, a 29-year-old board director at Sporty-One. “We support them in the growth of their minds and bodies through exercise.”

Sporty-One gets a lot of requests to help kids improve short-distance running before school athletic meets and for summer swimming lessons.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry says surveys taken in recent years show that children’s physical strength and athletic abilities are on the decline.

However, Takeshi Yamamoto, 32, president of Sports Magic in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, said that was not the place to focus.

“It’s not that children’s athletic abilities are declining, it’s just that they have less opportunities to exercise these days,” he said.

Yamamoto, who once took part in “ekiden” relay marathons as a member of the S&B Foods Inc. athletic team, said that he first shows his students that exercise is fun.

“I show them a full-speed sprint and tell them, ‘I can do it because I trained.’ Then, they really get into it,” he said.

For those parents who, because of crime fears, worry about their children being on their own, Osaka-based Best Kou — which means happiness — will send its PE tutors to schools to take kids to lessons in such places as parks.

And for added peace of mind, the company is run by Masazumi Nakajima, 37, a former Osaka police detective.

Yoshiteru Muto, a professor of graduate studies in physical education at the University of Tokyo, said the fundamental problem physical education faces is working out a good curriculum. Today, programs are too centered on having kids perform specific feats and grading them, instead of teaching them to enjoy exercise and learn how to stay fit, he said.