For some children, PE lessons are far from enjoyable

Sophie Warnes

72090096 300x199 For some children, PE lessons are far from enjoyableAt the height of Olympic fever, it’s all well and good to say that children should be doing more sport and that state schools should add more hours of PE into the curriculum, but I think we are overegging the pudding, here.

Owen Jones has already written about cuts to sports facilities and how state schools struggle to compete with private schools for sports provision. But thinking back to my own school days I can’t help but think there are more reasons that schools investing in sports might be more problematic than a lack of money.

When I was in secondary school, PE was my most hated subject, and I would do anything to try and get out of it. I’d feign being sick, until my parents realised that I always happened to be sick on the same days of the week. I then tried simply not turning up to the lessons, but that didn’t work well either because I’d often bump into PE teachers around school earlier in the day.

PE lessons always started with everyone changing in one of two rooms, joined by a small corridor where there were showers and toilets. I was always really insecure about my looks, and this was amplified massively to start with. But then you get used to it, and slowly you realise that no one is really looking at you because they are all too busy worrying that you are looking at them. In this way I suppose it could be hailed as a great way to make girls realise that actually nobody really cares as much as you think they do.

Then the teacher came in to check who was there. Being slightly deaf, I found that my life was made easier by altering the way I go about things. I always tried to position myself so that I was in the right room at the right time, or near enough to the corridor that I could hear my name. Sometimes I got it wrong, and I remember once not hearing my name and thinking it was a bit strange. I was approached by the teacher who screamed ‘are you deaf or something?!’ at me – I had to explain, in front of thirty-or-so wide-eyed girls that um, yes, I was deaf and that it’s actually in my file and I thought all the teachers knew this automatically so that I didn’t have to go through this humiliation in every single subject. They thought I was being difficult; I thought they may as well have been robots for all the empathy and understanding they demonstrated.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to the conclusion that however horrible people are, nothing will ever be as soul-destroying as going to school and doing sports. That time where you have to change in front of others, and you’re then forced to perform something you’re not good at in front of your peers. It’s borderline traumatising – children are vicious and horrible, to an extent that it’s hard to appreciate or understand as an adult.

I’m not saying that schools should not provide sports classes or invest in sports facilities and equipment. They absolutely should do, and it’s undoubtedly a great thing to encourage kids to do – and isn’t this part of the point of having the Olympics in London? But I think there needs to be some recognition of the fact that lots of children genuinely struggle with the way that sports are handled in school, and as a result, have their confidence knocked either by other children or by frustration at their own perceived inability to succeed.

Some kids find it really challenging – and yes, everyone struggles, but if many children dislike sports, then rather than simply demanding schools up the hours, we need to look at making it more enjoyable. People will do things that are good for them if they enjoy it.

This undoubtedly ties into the amount of money that schools have to throw at the problem. In theory there are great solutions to these issues, but in reality there is no funding to carry them out. Maybe there should be smaller groups, as that’s less intimidating. Maybe there should be a wider range of activities to choose from and do. Perhaps there just needs to be more understanding from teachers themselves, that people have emotional and physical limits; that not every child is going to love kicking a ball around, but that he or she might actually excel at some other sport if they are given the chance. There is no single solution but I’m sure we all agree that it’s much easier and more fun to participate in sports in a supportive environment rather than a destructive one.

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  • Rosemary Rimmer Clay

    I thought, growing up in Harrogate in the Sixties, that P.E. was utterly foul. We had a headmaster who used to leer in through the windows in the School hall at us 12 year-olds in vests and nickers. We had teachers [warmly wrapped up] who forced us to play hockey in tee-shirts and flapping shorts in January…when our fingers would go purple.
    The teachers were all joyless sadists, and as someone nerdy and dyspraxic, I experienced the common shame of being last to be picked, over and over again.
    I never did manage[or even want to manage] to leap over the stupid horse in gymn. I would have to try every week, nevertheless. As a result of all the hundreds of hours of being forced to fail at hockey, tennis, gymnastics and javelin-hurling, I hate all forms of sport and am horrified that Cameron is suggesting two hours a day for current school-children.
    Sports teachers fail to teach activities that might appeal [like yoga or Pilates] make it so much harder for children with co-ordination difficulties. We are NOT all sports lovers.
    2/10 for Cameron Junior, Must Try Harder.

  • Natalie Marnoch

    Thank you…someone here with some sense. I find it difficult to understand that so many people think that sports should be taken out of schools, sports teach us so much many of which you have outlined, and exactly those kids who aren’t as good at english and maths suffer in exactly the same way. When classes are split and they are automatically put in the bottom class or when we have to deliver presentations and some look so stupid in comparison to other, how is this not exactly the same?!

  • soundman

    Why do we accept that our prime minister (revealing himself as not an
    expert in much) can throw out casually racist remarks, just in the way
    his other MPs do?

    I experienced the same school humiliation, group showers, bullying
    tactics and then as a young teacher witnessed the same poor PE teaching
    from colleagues. As soupdragon says, children ‘thrown to the
    lions’ in an ethos that etches itself and destroys confidence.

    It is great to find the value of physical exercise and dance movement or
    yoga class later in life, but why can’t we build on positive school

    Why are many PE teachers poorly trained, fail to support, fail to encourage and cannot see beyond competitive team sports?

  • Alex

    As I am sure were the SS guards good husbands and generally decent men in their off-hours…

  • josh nox

    i always hated P.E as i have bad lungs which ment i always had bad chest infections and it ment any prolonged sporting activity made me choke and cough up vile flem which had to be spat out. swallowing the flem was in fact swallowing infectious germs my P.E teacher seemed to take great pride in make a example of me because i didn’t want to keep a dirty tissue with me at all time and after 4/5 lessons i got my mum to right me a note explaining my condition and explaining why i coundn’t do P.E the teacher tryed to force me to do cross country which i refused. his point was well ******* did it so why couldn’t i do it! he got me a dirty spare kit and told me to get changed. i was not only embarrassed but was angry so i tryed walking off to go to the head teacher and he then grabed me and said YOU ARE GOING TO DO CROSS COUNTRY. so being immature i started to shout rape the other staff came running to see what was going on he let go of my arm and i made my break for the head teacher office. when i explained my storey he was under standing and said do your home work out side my office. when school finished i was happy that i could go home thinking it was all over! but the next day i received 4 after school detentions for leaving a lesson with out permission i then went and caught the bus home instead of going to class and gave my mum the slips and had to explain what went on when she rung the school and asked what was going on to the head teacher he had no idea that i received a punishment for not taking part in P.E i didn’t have to do the detentions but i still had to go to all P.E lessons as the government had legislation was that all pupils had to take part in 2 hours of physical eduction a week but no action was taken against the bully of a teacher from the school as a result i then began sciving every tuesday to avoid the humiliation of being made a example of his bully tactics i only wish he had his teaching license revoked as i missed 3 of my best subject to avoid his hateful behaviour! i feel sorry for the poor kids who have to enjour this horrible subject and the lack of understanding from the people who teach it

  • jemimajay

    Interesting article. I hated history. So did a lot of my friends. (Badly taught) Should this have less focus on the curriculum for us because we didnt like it. Maths is the least popular subject in secondary education. Should this be appear less on the curriculum
    If something as important as physical literacy is so unpopular then we need to fix the way it is taught/delivered. We need to start by having specialist PE teachers in primary education. It is unfair to ask primary teachers to deliver when they recieve so little PE training.
    I’d be interested if the commenters believe well taught PE would be valuable. Basing your opinions on the way PE was taught 10-30 years ago is also unwise. Gove and Johnson constantly refer to the excellence of their education but they might find even their traditional public schools have moved on in delivery of PE.
    It is also crucial someone in this debate grasps the different between physical education, exercise and sport. These are not the same things.

  • Gareth ‘Marvin’ Greetham

    I don’t see why people are complaining. Either you’re good at it, and have no problems, or you’re goddamn awful (like I was) and then yes, it can be crap, but it’s all character building and life experience. It’s exactly the same in every subject, if you’re poor at, say, English, you’re just as likely to get called ‘thick’ or whatever, as if you’re bad on the sports field. You get bastards everywhere. Deal with them.
    Kids need exercise to keep healthy, and a lot of parents these days don’t have the time or inclination to provide opportunities for that, so it’s down to the school, and like it or not, PE is the only way to do that, though I guess more teacher training may help.
    As for people complaining about communal changing, oh dear…

  • 1maia

    I disagree, you can be the hero of the school by being good at football, but you won’t win the adulation of your classmates by being a ’swat’ at English! (Not that it matters:)

  • 1maia

    Yay, i loved barn dances when i was a kid (i was extremely square – i converted all by myself to fundamentalist christianity! as a kid!) i’d've loved to have done folk dancing at school. Plus British folk dancing is pretty simple, fast-ish, and has jolly rousing tunes, all at a kid’s level but a bit annoying for adults. Perfect!

  • sirpavlova

    When you’re dreadful at maths you aren’t forced to team up with more numerate kids only to be shamed when you let them down. It’s the team aspect that makes all the difference.

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