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Sport in schools
delirium happy
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I just saw Tony Blair talking to Sue Barker on the TV about sport in schools, and it set me thinking about my experiences in sports in school.

The thing is, my school was actually decent when it came to sports. They had very good facilities (their own swimming pool, many playing fields, sports hall, etc.). They had plenty of staff who were willing to give up their time. They brought in people from outside to help out; I have received football coaching from a former England international (Mike Duxbury). The school won national competitions in at least football and water polo in the time when I was there. In short, it has precisely the sort of sporting credentials that everyone always seem to want to promote and make more common.

And yet despite all of this, I hated sport at school and gave it up as soon as I possibly could. Looking back now, I really wish that this hadn't been the case. I wish that I could have enjoyed it, and that I could have kept up with some sort of physical activity, and not be such a lazy bum today.

The problem was, that I sucked. And everyone knew this. I was one of the geeks, the freaks and the losers who always got picked last for teams. And then because I sucked, my team-mates attempted to ensure that I didn't actually get to do anything. If we played basketball, then nobody would ever pass the ball to me. If we played cricket, I'd be put in some outfield position where the ball was least likely ever to come. In football, I tended to be put in goal (which was rather baffling; why do kids tend to think that it's appropriate to put the worst player in the position where mistakes are most likely to be costly?)

I don't actually blame any of my contemparies for this. They were mainly little shits, but this isn't their fault. If you're trying to win a sports game, not passing to the inept player is fairly sensible. It all just made the whole exercise horribly and entirely pointless for me. Running up and down a basketbal court following the ball but never getting near it is not fun. Standing around on a field getting hayfever while a cricket match goes on around you is also not fun. In fact, I think it's fair to say that both are a complete waste of time.

If sport is worthy of a place in the curiculum — and I think it is — then it's worth it for everyone. In fact, the people with the most potential to benefit from it are thos who aren't already sporty.

The whole thing smacks of lack of effort, I'm afraid. And I'll admit that I hardly put in any effort myself, but given that I was a teenager and given there was no discernable point, that was hardly surprising. It seems to me that it's just as important to put effort into teaching those with little in the way of aptitude or motivation as it is to teach those who are naturally gifted and interested.

An analogous situation is a subject like, say, mathematics just doesn't make sense. You (ideally) give the best and the brightest extra encouragement to reach their potential, but you also (ideally) give extra encouragement to those who struggle extra encouragement as well, because achieving a basic level of mathematical aptitude is important, even for those who aren't good at it. (And yes, I'm aware that a lot of teaching sucks and doesn't meet that ideal, but there seems to be widespread agreement that that is the ideal.)

So why is it that when it comes to sport, the underachievers get left in the dust, and nobody seems to bat an eyelid?

(And for the record, I don't blame my schooling for my current lack of fitness or physical activity. That's entirely down to me and the fact that I'm a lazy cow. It would have been nice to have had a better head start is all.)

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My theory on this is that part of the problem is that math or French or history is a class, and they actually teach the subject, or try to. Gym/sport is called a class, but it's not--if it were, the people running it would teach the skills useful for the game to everyone, not tell the ones who are already good at it "okay, you're in charge, now play" and neglect the students who aren't as gifted or who don't have parents who taught them the basics at home.

The only gym classes I learned anything in, from grade school on up, were when we played soccer--because this was the U.S. in the 1970s, and the mostly-valid assumption was that none of us knew even the basics, so they taught it--and the semester of yoga.

My school didn't have the facilities you describe, or particularly involved teachers, which left a situation in which, for the most part, they neither taught those of us who didn't already have the rudiments, nor gave those who already had some skills any additional instruction, beyond the chance to practice for an hour and a half a week (state-mandated minimum).

I've commented that it took me until I was in my late 30s to find the exercise I actually enjoy. I don't know, though, that I would have learned to like weight-lifting had it been offered to me at 15. Certainly not if it had been offered under similar conditions.

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This is true, there was no teaching in PE. PE teachers assume boys know the rules to football, genetically encoded in their Y chromosone.

The only time I ever learned anything was when we did field hockey, once, which they assumed no one knew the rules to and so taught us. The same for some of the athletics events where we even got method and tips to improve, and as a result I always enjoyed those sports more.

This is my grudge against gym. They don't teach it. I learned more in ten minutes from my brother than I did from years of gym. He taught me how to punch, since he was studying Judo and I had to regularly go into NYC by myself to work on a project. He figured some basic self-defense (the punching wasn't the focus, but the rest isn't relevant) might come in handy. Along with guidelines about when to use it (which was, mainly don't - give money if they want it, run if you can, but if they try to drag you off somewhere, fight, because you have good odds of not getting out of it alive if you go with someone somewhere). Anyhow, he taught me how to punch. Suddenly, my volleyball serve would usually go over the net. Because we'd played volleyball for years and the only thing they'd taught us was the swing part, not the how to hit things hard.

They also never asked me why I was bad at things. In gym's defense, neither did my other subjects. It took me a long time to realize that the normal experience I had of having difficulty on track because my lungs hurt so much wasn't actually normal. Didn't learn that til one time, very confusingly, my legs hurt. I didn't know what I could possibly have done to make my legs hurt. Then someone told me that usually that's what happens to make you feel you've done enough. It probably didn't help that track was always outside... as were so many of the activities. So, breathing was always an issue since I was emersed in allergens.

My school actually did have remedial gym. They were just loath to put people in it. I don't know why. I'd have been so much happier in remedial gym. But they didn't ask me my preference.

I only enjoyed sport in athletics and swimming, where I felt like I was competing against myself or when for some reason we got to choose our own teams.

The most positive experience I ever had of team sports was when we were rained out and had to take everyone to the sports hall, there we were for some reason put into basket ball teams by ability and played a kind of league where you watched while just two teams played each other.

Being in the low ability team with all the people who weren't very good suddenly made us all understand team work, we were doing our damned best to do well and therefore passing to each other and encouraging each other and feeling really fantastic about our little victories where we successfully got to the hoop and managed to try to score without getting stopped. Mixed sex teams, arranged by ability. Even though we lost every game, it was the best team sport experience I ever had.

This is why I firmly believe that PE should be streamed by ability for team sports.

I was very happy to have been left in the dust! I was in constant terror that somebody actually *might* pass the ball to me and then everybody will see just how unable i am to catch/pass/run. I think my skills of blending in with the greenery became developed through PE..

I felt much the same way at the time. I had no interest in sport, and was happy to be able to do as little as possible. But looking back on it now, I don't think that it did me any favours.

I think that ideally, I'd have been put in a sort of situation where it wouldn't have mattered that I couldn't throw, catch, run, kick or hit anything. If I'd ended up in a group with the other no hopers where nobody would have cared if I messed things up, because they did likewise. That way I'd have had some chance to actually possible be able to enjoy it slightly, and not get a mental association equating exercising with mental torment.

That's what happened to me - I was in the sports team affectionately known as "the drop-outs", along with the other cack-handed and/or lardy types who generally preferred reading D&D books to physical exercise. While others had football practice, we had kick-arounds and five-a-side since there weren't enough of us for full teams. We played cricket on a smaller pitch because none of us could manage to reach the boundary on a full-sized one.

I saw (and indeed committed) some amazing feats of sporting incompetence as part of that team, and it didn't matter because everyone else was as crap as I was.

I was in pretty much the same position as you regarding sport at school, with one or two exceptions. I hated rugby, mainly because I had no idea of the rules (never taught them, just assumed you knew) and it was always played in the freezing cold in winter. The ball never came near me, so I spent most of the time pissed off and shivering. Things only changed when I realised I could legitimately chase and floor those that had been annoying me. I still hated it though.

The only sport I ever enjoyed at school was running. Cross country and the 400m were my specialty. However I pretty much gave up all sport once I left the 3rd year of secondary school, citing a knee injury (it actually existed, but was nowhere near as bad as I claimed).

I agree with what others are saying about it just being assumed you know the various rules for sports. I'd have maybe taken a more active role had I had the slightest clue what was going on.

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Softball Superstar is a 38-page arc of the webcomicLiliane, Bi-Dyke. And in it, Liliane is made to play baseball at a family reunion, with all the horror of school memories floating up. It is good. I recommend reading it.


I had a similar experience. Gym was a frightening class to me - too chaotic, too noisy (especially inside!), no idea where the ball would come from, yes it *can* hurt you... and I am and was pretty uncoordinated.

So I was always making an effort to stop participating just as soon as humanly possible, and those people who cared about winning or losing (not that many, but usually one on each team) were making an effort to stop me from participating just as soon as humanly possible, and nobody else really cared if I particpated or not (including the teachers, though if I was too blatant about it they'd make me join in). So I learned a lot about dodging work, and very very little about sports.

And I, too, was stuck with the "did they teach us how to play this game?" feeling every sport we went to.

Oh yes, those balls can hurt. Especially when they drive your glasses into your face. And not wearing glasses isn't an option.

We actually had some good gym moments. We did some sections that were individually focused. Things like taking out a bunch of items and you had to work with one of them but had some say - I usually chose a single person jumprope. Before I became ill, I was actually decent with a single person jumprope. I could jump forwards, backwards, cross the rope to jump through it in this cute pattern, and sometimes do some other cute things. But it was just you and a rope, so it wasn't a bad way to get actual exercise. We had a unit in the exercise room - room full of exercise equipment. I liked that part. I'd vary what I used, often doing the treadmill or exercise bike, but also often pushing the weight thingy with my legs. I liked building up muscle when I wasn't forced to be in a win-lose situation.

We even once played a team sport I enjoyed - four-square. In fairness, part of this was because I was only playing with friends. But it was somewhat exertive, and kind of fun.

It was the large team sports that sucked. The ones where people get annoyed with you for doing badly and you have to play with people who don't want you there and you know it. Badminton was okay, because it was 1 on 1, so nobody minds if you do badly. Whereas volleyball was less okay, because your team gets to dislike you.

For tennis, we broke into groups of 3. One person would fetch the ball while 2 people played, then you rotated who was in what position. I had fun for a while until my teacher caught on to the idea that I wasn't rotating, but just bouncing a spare ball and fetching a ball when needed. Less risk of being hit (and while it wasn't in gym class, it was a game of tennis that broke my nose - getting hit can hurt), and I could recite poetry or song lyrics in my head.

I wish gym had been a class rather than a stupid thing. Although, at least my class started every gym class with a series of warm-ups - stretching and mild aerobix exercise. These warm-ups were probably useful for me and other non-gymy people.

I actually found volleyball to be reasonable and one of my better PE experiences. Due to the way it worked, I had to participate. If the ball came down where I was standing, I had to at least try to hit it, and a volleyball court is not so large that I could be shunted off to somewhere that would never see the ball. And lo and behold, because I did actually get some practice, I did get better at it. I still sucked, but I sucked less than I did to start with.

I guess I was fortunate in that my peers were generally supportive of me through this. Whether this was because they actually liked me enough to accept that I was trying and improving, or because there was a teacher present making them less willing to be abusive, or simply because they thought that volleyball was a dumb game and not worth bothering about, I don't know.

Whereas, as far as I could tell, I never got better at any of the games through practice. I had better ability at some than others to start, and that never changed. The only improvements that ever happened were when someone actually bothered to teach me something.

The only thing I managed to learn on my own that made me, in a way, better. Was that I could speedwalk around the track rather then running. By doing so, I could keep walking all period, and actually do an impressive number of laps. Whereas, running would make my lungs and mouth burn, and then I'd have to stop. And this wasn't so much learning as someone mentioning that if we didn't feel up to running, we could walk.

Also, this was after my biology teacher had taught us how we could swing our legs more at the hip, rather than the knee, and thus walk more efficiently. So, it may not even be a counter-example.

I'm dense about a lot of things. I've rarely done well with learning on my own. But I'm good at absorbing what I'm taught. So, I really wish they'd bother to teach me. Because I did improve now and then when they actually taught us something.

Again, my school wa actually fairly decent and they did actually try to teach us stuff, rather than just throw us onto a pitch and tell us to play. The problem was that anything like that is only useful if you get to actually practice them. Which is why I was actually able to get somewhat better at volleyball, whereas my skills in something like basketball stayed constant.

For what I can only deduce were timetabling reasons, our school had two subjects: 'PE' and 'Games'. The latter being your straightforward excercise in getting the entire academic year onto grass and making them play hockey, football, 5-a-side, rugby, cricket, rounders, formation hayfever, etc. The usual natural selection applied, with the exception that the Cool Kids seemed to have sussed the strategic insanity of putting your least able player in goal.

PE on the other hand was a mixed bag. This was a single 34.5 minute timetable slot, which given 2 minutes to get into your PE kit and being at least 5 minutes late for the next lesson (the PE teachers would of course keep you on the far end of the school playing field until after the bell), left you with a little over hald an hour to do any actual PE in. This was generally used for the non-team activities: running, athletics, weightlifting, gymnastics - where the objective was to mircaulously obtain a measurable improvement in your ability over the term. Needless to say I had the sense to do artificially badly early on, such that I gave a general impression of someone with low-moderate ability who was working hard to improve in spite of cripplingly bad asthma. This kept the PE teachers off my back, and the absence of any teamplay meant the only really hellish bit (apart from cross-country running, where I actually did have nasty asthma attacks) was the changing rooms.

PE also featured those most fearful sports: basketball and tennis. Thankfully we spent more time working on excercises to improve specific skills than playing the games, but that's little consolation when you've got the hand-eye coordination of something with very little hand-eye coordination.

Special mention should also go to The Bleep Test, which for those unfamiliar with the specific form of torture, is a means of assessing one's cardiovascular fitness. Unless of course you're asthmatic, in which case it's a means of destructively testing one's air-moving ability. Basically, you have to run between two lines, about 40m apart, timing your running such that you arrive at each line in sync with a bleep track on an audio tape. The bleeps get progressively closer together, until eventually the PE teacher gets bored, or you collapse in a heap and do the universal mime for salbutamol. This is worth mentioning largely because a couple of years later I found myself in the fortunate position of being in the stage lighting gallery while a class of year 9s were being subjected to the Bleep Test. Noticing that the PE teacher had plugged the tape recorder into a circuit fed from the distribution board I happened to be standing next to, I did the only reasonable thing, and repeatedly tripped the breaker for a few seconds in the gaps between the bleeps. This utimately resulted in an entire class of year 9s getting approximately the same score on the bleep test, and a slightly confused PE teacher. A small victory, but I feel a noteworthy one nonetheless.

Ah, we had the President's fitness thingy. It's a nationwide requirement each year, you get tested to see if you fit the nationwide standards. I don't.

The one good thing about it was the pull-up requirement. This only is good if you're female. The males all were doing these chin-lift things at a bar and whatever. But us females were supposed to try to do them too. There are some basic anatomy differences... which means unless a girl has been seriously weight-lifting, you simply cannot do a pull-up. Especially because you are holding a bar with the backs of your hands facing you and trying to bend your elbows to lift your weight in this highly impossible way.

So, nobody at all in the class of all females could do one. We were graded by fractions. When no one can do even one, which fraction you get seems to matter less.

Ahh yes, pull-ups. Used to be able to do a handfull of those until my mid-teens. The best thing was watching most of the class struggling to manage somewhere between zero and two, and then the token scrawny boy doing about 50 at ridiculous speed. Seems to be a measure of body weight (and of course the afore-mentioned technique issue) more than anything useful.

I appear to have had the opposite experience to most people on this thread: I hated warm-ups and on-your-own sections of PE, because a) I am completely inflexible and always have been, and hence *couldn't* do most of the relevant stretches, a concept my PE teachers had trouble coming to terms with, and b) running around field == death, and I didn't actually have asthma (I have something related but in fact different, which took ages to get diagnosed because it Wasn't Asthma, therefore obviously I was just being lazy while I was coughing up blood).

Games, on the other hand, were just fine; I was put in goal or a defensive position, lumbered around the field, and menaced the ball out of people. Intensive parental tuition had finally taught me how to throw and catch by secondary school, and occasionally we got to play things like hockey and lacrosse where you got to run around a field meancing people with *sticks!*.

I think low-ability people get put in goal because mostly what they can't do is run, and goalies don't have to run.

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