There is more to physical education than sport
Far too many children (and adults) do not get enough exercise to remain healthy. You can see the evidence in every high street and classroom. And the statistics for obesity related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes are terrifying.
So half a cheer for Cameron and co for jumping on the Olympics euphoria bandwagon and recognising that something has to be done to get people, especially school children, off their bottoms. But I withhold the other two and a half cheers because, like so many former governments, this lot is confusing physical activity, exercise and education with sport.
Sport is, by its very nature competitive and people like David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Lord Coe et al, who seem to enjoy it, simply cannot get their heads round the fact that physical competitiveness doesn’t appeal to everyone.
I hated ‘games’ at school (although I didn’t mind hopping over vaulting horses or swinging on ropes in ‘gym’ for half an hour) because I haven’t the slightest interest in who wins or who loses. That attitude has stayed with me in adult life. I left the continent to avoid the Olympics hype and I use World Cup matches in which Britain plays, Wimbledon finals and so on as a good opportunity to do a supermarket run because nearly everyone else is glued to TV and the shops are quiet.
In school I also found sport desperately boring – so much hanging around. We did cricket in the summer. Well, unless you happen to be batting or the ball comes your way as a fielder you certainly don’t get much exercise. And it takes disproportionately long to get into all that gear. Hockey was worse and netball only marginally better. And as for all that fuss about tournaments, house points or our school beating or losing against another school…it all left me cold and uninterested.
That is not to say that I disapprove of competitiveness in schools. I disagree completely with all those misguided, now rather outmoded, lefty ‘egaliatarian’ educationists of the 1990s who refused to let children compete at all because it meant someone had to lose. Of course there should be lots of opportunities for competitive sport in schools because it works wonders for many young people – but I’d hate to see it made compulsory for everyone as the government is now threatening. There is even a highly impractical suggestion that everyone should have to do two hours a day – which sounds like hell on earth to me.
The answer, surely, is to use physical education lessons to teach children that there are many ways of attaining and retaining healthy fitness without playing football or tennis if games don’t grab you. And, of course, enlightened schools already do just that – offering children tasters of a wide range of activities as a way of helping them to find something they really like doing.
Why don’t more schools take children out for longish walks, for example? Many modern children hardly walk anywhere. It could help with PSHE because you can chat while you walk. Not a bad way of getting to know your local area better, either. Yes I know schools involved in Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and the like organise occasional overnight hikes, but what’s the matter with a twice weekly three mile walk during the hour that others are playing rugby or whatever?
I’ve enjoyed swimming since childhood but I’ve never wanted to race or take part in ‘events.’ More schools should be taking more children to swimming pools, teaching them to swim well and encouraging stamina development by getting them to swim for sustained periods. Then it’s an easy thing to keep going in adulthood.
Some schools teach yoga, tai chi, pilates and other non competitive activities and there should be more of this. There are plenty of well qualified practitioners in the community who could be employed to teach sessions in school.
Many students will be happy to do strength work with cross trainers, weights and so on in which they compete with no one but themselves. Schools should be investing in the equipment to enable that. The gym habit is then established and may well be sustained in adulthood.
David Cameron was sneering last week at Indian dance being taught as ‘sport’ – carelessly conflating sport with healthy physical activity as usual. In a sense he’s right for the wrong reasons: no sort of dance should be marginalised as part of PE because it’s an important part of performing arts and that’s where it belongs. Nonetheless, all forms of dance require physical prowess and energy and shouldn’t be underestimated as yet another way of getting and keeping fit. An hour of hip hop or street dance will use more muscles and expend more calories than almost any game of cricket – although squash might do the same job if you want to compete. There probably needs to be closer liaison between PE and performing arts departments in most schools – in the spirit of the Olympics perhaps which made such effective use of performing arts in the opening and closing ceremonies.
It is as important to give children physical fitness and health as it is to give them literacy. But one-size-fits-all won’t work in either case. Every child is different and we have to meet the needs of the non-competitors as well as the sporty types.
Blanket imposition of sport is not the answer to the obesity crisis. In fact it would simply guarantee that kids such as I was will slip through the net because if you hate games as much as I did, believe me, it isn’t difficult to find all sorts of ways of avoiding them.
(Image Credit: Getty Images)Tagged in: boris johnson, competition, david cameron, exercise, health, Lord Coe, obesity, olympics, pe, Sport, Type 2 diabetes
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