We were victims of childhood abuse in our differing ways and here we'll share something of what happened to us.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

School sports


From the film KES

With funding changes to school sports planned, a shift to a more competitive ethos is mooted, but there is likely to be a bitter battle for the heart of PE.
For many people PE encapsulates their unhappiest memories of school. They look back to blasted, windswept sports fields where shouting PE teachers in ill-fitting tracksuits marshalled unwilling pupils.
The classic fictional depiction is the 1969 film Kes, where Brian Glover's Mr Sugden takes part in a football match as both player and referee, awards himself a penalty and then remonstrates with Billy Casper by knocking him into the mud with a wet football.
It has that classic breeding ground for school social stigma - the picking of teams. An opportunity to further make life miserable for the group memorably referred to as the "wets, weirdos and fatties" in the sitcom, Red Dwarf.
The popular perception is that something started to change in the culture of sports and physical education in schools in the 1970s. Activities that didn't alienate the unsporty started to chip away at the dominance of competitive team sport.
But now there is to be a shift back towards competitive sport. The government is ending the ring-fencing of £162m of funding for School Sport Partnerships, which promoted co-operation in sport and PE provision between schools, as well as inter-school competitions.
Opponents say this will lead to money being used to plug gaps elsewhere in school budgets, but the government is instead focusing on its plans for Olympics-style competitions for schools.
But what everybody does agree on is the importance of PE. Adults may look back ruefully to being made to exercise in their underpants or do punishment laps of a field, but few would dispute the long-term benefits.
"Getting the regular habit of exercise ingrained controls weight later on in life," says Dr Andy Franklyn-Miller, a consultant in sports medicine.
This week his representative body, the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine, is to call for a health-focused segment to be incorporated into PE lessons.
Forged sick notes
But it's not just about obesity, Dr Franklyn-Miller says. Getting used to exercise helps avoid injuries later in life. Even basic routines like improving balance can be vital to developing children.
Educational consultant Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, has seen children arriving in primary school with difficulties with basic movement.
Comedian John O'Farrell has unpleasant memories from life at his all-boys school.
The dreaded Cross-Country run

"They have really poor physical skills and physical strength. They are coming through 'floppy' because of [early years spent] staring at screens."  It puts even more of an onus on PE teachers. And they have to make their subject fun. While you might be able to force children to learn something from academic lessons, a string of early Kes-style experiences might make some shun sport in adult life.
"My school didn't do football, so I was forced to do rugby. I was small and skinny... was thrown the wet, muddy ball and everyone tried to jump on my head."
Passing the ball immediately, even to the opposition, was O'Farrell's solution. He then tried basketball, but as a late-developer did not like playing in the "skins" team, without shirts.
"I tried to shoot for the hoop without revealing my bald, pre-pubescent armpits. The teacher would say 'shoot, O'Farrell, shoot… no, not underarm'."
O'Farrell started forging sick-notes from his mother and soon developed a cottage industry performing the same service for other boys.
Former headteacher Roger Hurn, author of 101 Dance Ideas, goes into schools to encourage the use of dance. He says children can be put off sport by bad experiences, as he was by a strict, rugby-mad PE teacher.
Danger
"I never played rugby again, the experience under that teacher was so horrible. I won't even watch it. It has a negative effect."
Modern PE is aimed at avoiding the above scenarios. A plethora of options have sprung up in recent years.
A recent government study found 37% of schools offered cheerleading. At a fifth of schools a child can learn yoga. Individual sports like boxing are on the rise, but traditional team games like rugby, hockey and netball are in decline.
Peripatetic practitioner William Allen, author of Games, Ideas and Activities for Primary PE, will try anything to get children's enthusiasm flaring. Street dance, tri-golf and American football are among the activities he uses.
"PE is now a gateway to doing things outside school," says Mr Allen.
But an older generation of PE teachers also remember great things being done in schools. Now retired, Ray Twentyman taught PE for more than four decades before retiring last year and focusing on coaching young athletes.
Starting out in the 60s at a school in Liverpool, he recalls excellent provision of football, rugby, cross country, tennis, athletics, and volleyball, among others.
"It was unusually good, but there were lots of other good schools," he says.
Cautious mindset
But by the 1980s PE teaching was becoming more prescribed, with the National Curriculum meaning many boxes had to be ticked.
"You did six-week blocks of a sport. I defy anybody to learn a game properly in six weeks," says Mr Twentyman.
Teachers also have a more cautious mindset.
"I liked kids to get stuck in. I think today, if it's raining or windy, they won't go out and play," he says.
His colleague Chris Sproat, now also retired, was disappointed at the limits the evolving health and safety culture imposed. Instead of just taking a group of children for a run outside school premises, forms had to be diligently filled.
Both teachers and children might want things to be a little freer.
"There are kids who like structured sport, but for the ones who don't we need to be more creative about encouraging them to be physically active," says Tim Gill, author of No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society.
"That might mean introducing more fun, more choice and maybe a little bit of danger."
But whatever happens, the place of the brutal Mr Sugdens is hopefully gone. With funding cuts to school sports planned, a shift to a more competitive ethos is mooted, but there is likely to be a bitter battle for the heart of PE.
Below is a selection of your memories - good and bad - of PE
"I hated PE and our bullying, abusive secondary school PE teachers succeeded in convincing me that I was a fat, talentless no-hoper who just wasn't cut out for any sort of physical activity. (In reality, I wasn't, but as almost the smallest child in the class I certainly wasn't going to make a great impression at any of the school team sports). It was exactly the opposite of what a physical education should aim to achieve, and it's taken me twenty years to fully appreciate the importance of regular exercise and gain enough fitness to pursue it. Competitive sports can offer kids opportunity and a life-long healthy activity and I'm all for that, but the likes of aerobics, dance and martial arts can also achieve essential fitness gains and are more accessible after leaving school than, for example, netball. If we focused on the desired outcome - a generation of fit, healthy kids - then it would be easy to devise a menu of options to suit all tastes and talents. Of course, the inevitable cuts in funding won't help."

From the BBC 

Of course if you've read my Story (above) then you'll know why I've posted this story which started about the current round of spending cuts but finished up reminding me of just how oppressive and abusive school PE used to so often be.  I hope it's changed - but you can see from this that the wounds are still very raw.

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7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The focus in PE class should have been improving your physical shape, not making the ones who weren't in the best shape to feel lousy. The PE instructors I had were the typical jocks who expected everyone to be good at every sport and if you weren't would be ridden hard and ridiculed. Just because I was not the fastest or couldn't jump the highest doesn't mean I deserved to be treated like dirt. The instructor should have worked with me to improved my speed or jumping ability not try to tear me down.

jaygeemmm said...

I despised PE. I could handle the changing clothes (and jock straps were enforced), and even the showers (probably because we were all pretty self-conscious), but once we were in gym kit, and all looked alike, the bullying started. I was the fat, slow kid who couldn't do a single pull-up, was always last in any running contest, and seemed to always wind up on the "skins" team - chosen last or next to at best.

I was made fun of by everyone from the coaches to the jocks to the kids that were, quite frankly, only a bit faster than me. I'm way too heavy to this day. It's really awful when the people who are supposed to be making you feel good about exercising make you feel like crap from the minute you hit the floor or field.

I don't think things have changed much now, based on what I saw happening in gym classes in the high school I worked in, and reactions of the kids that worked for me who were clearly in the same boat I was back then.

Peace <3
Jay

Phil Yabootz said...

i coached a football (soccer) team (quite successfully) the methods i used for kids who weren't as athletic as the others should be employed in schools.

basically each kid was assessed and for example had to run 100 metres it didnt matter how long it took or who won. each kid had their own time. it was their objective to improve upon it.

therefore often the slowest kids showed the most improvement and received accolades even if they actually finished last.

it worked and gave the 'no-hopers' encouragement.

Malcolm said...

I think what offended me the most was the discovery that there were alternatives to conventional games and PE. Being at the other end of the weight scale (severely & clinically underweight)I was unable to perform the most basic of gym exercise like rope climbing due to lack of upper body strength. The other boys though it was hilarious and the inevitable name calling and bullying ensued. When I was removed from rugby on medical grounds at 15 (knee problems) it suddenly transpired that I could play badminton, a game at which I excelled and where my skinny frame had advantages over heavier opponents. It's the obsession with "tough" sports and a lack of imagination that cause most of the trouble.

PSR said...

The worst part was when the kids that were good at football got to choose the teams and you and I were always last to be picked because we were fucking useless at the crap game.

randy said...

Hi Micky;
I remember a PE teacher from the emementery grades...ages 6-10...because she made gyms fun. And, I remember the hyper-competitive adult adolescents that enjoyed torturing us in later years. Gyms teachers have such an opportunity to mold and shape, to really impact positively the lives of the kids they teach. It is sad that what catches most often is the horror stories. I recall one who would sit and snicker with the "popular" jocks at the trials many of us went through trying to get fast growing bodies all going the same direction. I ran into one of my old gyms teachers recently, still doing the same thing, still with the same attitude, and still trying to intimidate the kid in me. I almost fell for it, but at the last moment I remembere: I wasn't a scared 14-yr.old any more...it was strangely lifting to smile and walk away. -randy

Micky said...

Those were such formative years and there were lots of good teachers who we never forget because they gave us something special.

The problem was the others. And PE departments seemed to be a haven for those old machismo attitudes.

And heavens yes! The picking of teams. Mind you I and several others got so used to being the last ones to be picked at those big field games we were no use at that we made a joke out of it and one - possibly the only - nice, young PE Master joined in our joke with us and turned it back on the 'pickers'.

One week he made them pick from us FIRST and, since both teams had to do it, they picked between us (liabilities!) oh so very carefully. It became a treasured memory and killed that 'last to be picked' fear for ever.