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delirium happy

Just keep on trying till you run out of cake

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Sport in schools
delirium happy
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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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.

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