Saturday, 9 July 2011

I skipped sports day, and i'm glad

Son is in the midst of preparing for Big School. This means that on his playgroup mornings, he gets taken over to roam the school library, and chat to his new teacher-to-be, to prove she is not a monster. He has been refreshingly blase about his, even to the point of grumbling that the library doesn't have a motorbike encyclopaedia, or even a Hayes manual of a Kawasaki Ninja *sigh*, but one thing he came home completely perplexed about was Sports Day. Well meaning playgroup ladies took the rising receptions over to watch the various children pelt about in the heat, drop eggs from a spoon and mostly, lose. After witnessing this Olympics of Fenland, his only response was that there were too many people running. To his mind, competition only really exists when it's against a sibling. Why run against others when there is no sibling to cry at losing? If you want to practise best, fast running, you can do that alone. You don't need to do it in a  field and maybe lose.
I was, needless to say, hopelessly crap at running. All kinds. Sprinting was out because my overdeveloped chest necessitated more sports bra than Marks and Spencers in the 80's had yet envisioned, plus I couldn't run. Cross Country would have been better if the aptly named "Miss Quick" had not sent us out in navy blue pants to run through snow laden fields, while she followed on the roads as best she could, clad in a puffa jacket, on a moped. Hockey was cold legs being beaten with a stick. Shot putt, I won the acclamation of everyone. Nobody had ever seen a girl throw the bloody thing upright, and then stand still as it descended, to fall on her head and concuss her. Still, I got to sit the rest of sports day out with the ambulance people. High jump is hilarious when you are 5 foot. Long jump is just a run into a cat litter tray. I could swim, for ages, but not properly (how can this be? Swimming teacher after swimming teacher would moan at me. I got my badge for swimming a mile, 2 miles. But apparently it was still wrong because I stuck my head up too much. It was the EIGHTIES. I had a FRINGE!) Tennis, Badminton, rubbish. Javelin, they didn't let me near. Rounders? Yes, please. I'll be fielder. I'll go and have a fag. Netball? Nah.  The apogee of my sporting prowess at school came aged 5, when, annoyed by Mrs Lines attempts to get me into my leotard, which was itchy and entirely flammable, I ran, nude, out of the changing room and ran my entire first sports day in the nude, leaving them with nowhere to pin the red ribbon for coming first in the roly-poly race. It is the only race I have ever won, and all it earnt me was a ribbon and a smacked arse from an angry mother. Sports at school was laothsome, dreadful, angst ridden crap more about the ones would could catch/throw/leap with their eyes shut lording it over the ones who couldn't, especially if they were pudgy academics (like me), than any sense of real sportsmanship.
Was I therefore an obese monster? No. I did sport, I just did the ones I liked. I biked 6 miles a day, 4 times a day, to muck out a horse and ride it, twice a day, before and after school. On my weekends, I 3 day evented. I did pretty well. I enjoyed it, I was actually pretty fit. What did I get for PE? E's, F's. PE at school is about as useful as a Tory Minister at a morality lecture. It sucks. It does nothing for teamwork, nothing for self esteem, and nothing for the kids who are not any good at it. Of course, there's the argument that everyone needs to learn how to lose, but really, did I need to learn to lose 4 periods a week, for all those years? In the end I bunked every lesson and sneaked into the library instead. Now, I am not saying that sport is not a great and wonderful thing , if you are good at it. I look on in awe at son as he catches balls and leaps from branch to branch with a sure limbed dexterity that I have never had. He is naturally quick, agile, and co-ordinated. Is he mine? He will have a ball, literally. He can already tackle me to the ground. This is the boy that I lectured for 35 minutes about how the first time he rode his bike without stabilisers, he might fall, but he must get back up and try again, only to see him cycle off and within 20 minutes start kicking wheelies. How is he of my loins? Daughter, on the other hand, is mine. She still sits down to come down stairs. She cannot catch, run straight, or jump properly, and neither does she care. Yet. Because by Year 7, she will. She will be (although I plead no, no) the last to be picked. The team captain will sigh as they begrudgingly say her name, the last option against the kid in callipers. That was me. It was beyond crappy.

And this is why I applaud the school in somewhere or other that made the Daily Mail on Thursday for telling it's kids that sports day was optional. Of course, the Daily Mail are spitting bits of Empire about it, but hey, it's a damn good idea, as far as i'm concerned. Why not let the kids who couldn't give a stuff about running do something else? Running isn't a vital life skill, like reading, or adding. Bullying people into it doesn't make it fun. Lord alone knows I had to do enough bullying into it myself, as form tutor. In year 7, it went like this:
me: "Who wants to run the 100/200/400/800/ etc etc?"
Kids: "Me! Me! Me! Miss, me!"
By year 9, it was like this.
Me: "Who wants to run the 100 metres? Anyone? Come on?"
Kids: "      "
And how I laughed as I tried to get them to run the 800m. In the end I had to bribe them and threaten them. How did this happen? Through a mixture of PE and hormones.The ones that were good at PE enjoyed it. The ones that were not, didn't. Plus, they had to contend with bits bulging, skin erupting, classmates taunting and, for girls, the hideous clipboard with monthly information recorded. What actually was there to like about PE if you didn't excel at it? And yet, the girls in my form who hated PE were almsot universally members of the street dance club, which met to thunder it's way round my classroom and never put the desks back properly every lunchtime. I had one form tutee who was a whiz at golf, another who was excellent at bowling. None of these are offered at school.  PE doesn't have to be about winning and losing and humiliation. It can and should be about doing something you enjoy, in small groups, or large. It doesn't have to be competative to be useful in building team skills. It's only the winners who insist that competition is best.

So, if your kid is wetting the bed pre-sports day, and throwing a tin of Scotch Broth down the loo pretending they've been sick (yes, that was me: the giveaway was the Scotch Broth smelt far worse than actual sick), then let 'em off. Write them a sick note. Do some sport they like instead, with them.

*Alert* Lady from Wimblington: I lost your mail and now cannot find your blog. Please send it to me again!


The List Writer said...

PE at school is so limited. Despite living in a very sporty family, none of us liked or like PE at school. We currently do ballet, triathlon, running, swimming and hiking. None of them are offered at any school I know of.

I reckon the best thing you can do is teach your children that there is much, much more to sport and fitness than school PE lessons.

debra hall said...

when I used to get the third degree about giving my two home educated children a well-balanced education, and after telling those people that perhaps we'd been to ballet, football, tennis, cricket, badminton or whatever, (I placed much importance on physical development and sport)- I'd often get this really dorkish response... 'Oh, was that your PE lesson for the day then?'

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