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memory of school sports

(24 Posts)
Joan Mon 25-Feb-13 22:20:14

Here is a submission I have just made to the 'This Life' section of our national newspaper 'The Australian'. I doubt they'll print it, as my attitude is so un-Australian as to be almost sacrilegious! Every word is true though.

This (Non-sporting) Life

If they had known, they would never have granted me Australian citizenship. But I cannot hide it any longer: I hate competitive sport; I hate to watch it, and I hate to participate in it. It has always puzzled me why others care about it so much, which makes me feel like the small boy in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, being the only one who sees or admits that the reality is vastly different from the hype.

But now the truth is coming out; more people are realising that what is in front of their eyes, or on the TV is not really what they think they are seeing. It may be a pharmaceutically enhanced version of sporting reality, or a manifestation of a bookmaker’s agreement, or it may be genuine competition. They simply have no way of knowing.

My attitude is not new though; it dates from long before drugs in sport was an issue. It even dates from before John McEnroe made toddler tantrums part of the tennis scene.

It dates from my years at Heckmondwike Grammar School in Yorkshire, where I was a happy school kid, glad to have passed my 11+ and achieved a place in that state school, with no bullies, no snobs, and mainly excellent, caring teachers.

But not all. Not the PE mistress, whose name escapes me in Freudian forgetfulness. Sports lessons were a study in psychological, and occasionally physical, torture. We had to play hockey in the freezing fog, netball in the rain, sometimes watched by leering boys hoping our PE clothes would become transparent when wet, and rounders, where I found it utterly ridiculous that we were expected to hit a ball with a narrow stick. I never failed to miss. Other kids screamed at me when fielding, because boredom set me off day dreaming, so I never noticed the ball. Not that I would have been able to catch it anyway. We also had to run, swim, climb ropes, and jump over things in the gym. It all tended to hurt.

The PE mistress had her hatreds, with me at the top of the list. She was hostile, sarcastic, and often utterly furious, not only because I failed to achieve anything, but because I clearly didn’t care. To make matters worse, I looked athletic, as I cycled a lot, and did Judo. I did not regard these activities as sport: I never considered doing any cycle racing, and only did Judo because I fancied a boy who went to the same club. As it turned out, judo trained me to fall painlessly, which was great for cycling as I was inclined to fall off from time to time.

My indifference to her subject turned the PE mistress from a vaguely hostile presence to the creature from the depths of hell. The kindest thing she ever said to me was that I was the most uncoordinated creature she had ever had the misfortune to try to teach. I took it as a compliment. She seethed.

There is a dark side to my sporting problem, and in a way, it ruined my working life. At sixteen I had the option to leave school or stay on for 2 more years and do the exams that would lead to university. My parents insisted I leave: I would have fought their decision, but the knowledge that the twice-weekly torture would stop, softened my opposition. I left, ending up in the civil service; well paid work but not really inspiring.

I have had a good life, married a gorgeous sailor and we now have two adult sons. Finally making it to university in my late fifties, I graduated with honours at the age of sixty two.

I loved campus life: it had everything: great teachers, interesting subjects, a wonderful library, good company, and for me, NO SPORT.

Eloethan Mon 25-Feb-13 23:44:20

Competitive sports (which Tory MPs are always banging on about) are not for everyone and can put young people off any type of exercise. I always used to say I was going to be on holiday for sports day because I dreaded the humiliation of always coming last. I think exercise should be enjoyable and the competition element, though fine for some, is not essential. What's wrong with aerobics, Zumba, Indian dance, ballet, yoga, hoola hoops, skipping, etc?

numberplease Tue 26-Feb-13 00:06:45

Joan, if you hadn`t said it was Heckmondwike, I`d have sworn that you had the same PE teacher that I had at Rochdale Grammar for Girls! I hated PE and games, and they hated me, especially Miss Wall hated me, and I wasn`t too fond of her either!

Joan Tue 26-Feb-13 03:14:46

I think there were a lot of them like that! I've even seen dramas on the telly with PE teachers from hell!! What pleasure they get out of making a kid's life miserable is beyond me. Must be a power trip.

absent Tue 26-Feb-13 07:09:39

I think I lost interest in competitive sports in junior school when having won all the running the finals, I wasn't chosen for the interschools sports because a girl I had comprehensively beaten had once won in a previous year. I was never enthusiastic about team games – netball seemed slow and boring (I think it's faster and more exciting these days), lacrosse is just brutal and Joan's description of rounders is just as applicable to the younger absent. I did develop an interest in and some skill at fencing, not least because I have very long arms and legs. I quite enjoyed fencing competitions but never had the killer spirit of a winner, even when I did win. I have some medals somewhere.

vampirequeen Tue 26-Feb-13 08:44:39

I think there must have been a section in PE training covering torture, sarcasm and sadism. One of our teachers introduced herself as The Witch and she certainly was. She would do anything she could to make the less able miserble....with me at the top of her list. I couldn't run 400m so what was the point of making me try to run 800m and as for climbing ropes....can someone explain the point to me?

When I was teaching I tried to make PE more fun. We still did the basic skills but as a school we agreed that PE was about exercise and anything that got the heart beating and the lungs working was OK. So I taught my class how to do a basic jive and simple stroll when we were studying WWII. The sporty children were quite dismissive of dancing when I told them what we were going to do but one told me at the end of the first lesson that he'd rather be playing football or racing or anything because at least he would have got to stop and get his breath lol.

Ariadne Tue 26-Feb-13 08:55:12

We could all have gone to the same school! Horrible, horrible bullying women who had no time for those who weren't good at sport. I hated every minute of it.

However, as some of you know, my DDiL was a PE teacher, an international heptathlete, and last year a Team GB coach, totally committed to sport, and she has taught me a lot. (Not, I hasten to add, to enjoy participating!) She talks about giving children "body confidence" to enable them to know what their bodies can do. If only someone had been able to do that with me!

Also, having had to go and watch her compete (Manchester, Commonwealth games) and having never attended a major sporting event, I also learned how enjoyable it could be - a bit like my experience at the Olympics.

So maybe the horrible women have gone?

vampirequeen Tue 26-Feb-13 09:20:56

I do hope so. Surely it should just be a case of a child doing the best they can do. When DD1 was in secondary school she was quite ill. Her PE teacher put together a group that did far less strenuous pe but still exercised. It was a wonderful idea because she wasn't pushed to exhaustion but did what she could. DD2 was the type of girl I hated when I was at school. Absolutely brilliant at whatever sport she turned her hand to and a PE teacher's favourite lol.

LullyDully Tue 26-Feb-13 09:32:00

All the above memories seem to ring a very large bell in my head. Must have been grammer schools.We wore green, short cotton dresses and green knickers what ever the weather.
SHE wore a track suit. My DGD wears on in cold weather and a skin. She loves any sport.
I do remember hating hockey. I used to be right wing in one team and my best friend was left wing on the other side so we could chat. We never knew where the ball was. Really it was sad and I put it down to poor teaching. It does stay with you which is a shame.

Enjoyed the dancing but never got up a rope!!!!!

kittylester Tue 26-Feb-13 09:39:44

I hated sport until we had dance as part of PE lessons and really loved it. It was all about Modern Dance and, for three weeks running, Miss Gibson told us to go to see West Side Story, at the cinema, for homework. smile

In our family, the boys were really good at sport. At school both of them played football and cricket for the County and DS2 was spotted by a Leicester City scout. Eventually, he (and we!) decided that he had to make a choice between football and school. School won. He is very involved in the teams his 'step-children' play for and his football team won the Under 10's league last year.

The girls, however, had witches for PE teachers - enough said! sad

agapanthus Tue 26-Feb-13 09:47:21

No Joan You must have gone to Maidenhead High!!! that PE teacher really got around didn't she? Ours used to stand at the door of the showers and throw back the curtain which had large gaps either side, and launch in if you were only pretending to shower ( keeping bra and pants on cos you were too shy to disrobe). She also officiated at assemblies and wo betide anyone whose blouse came from Dorothy Perkins instead of self ridges,or you hadn't changed into your indoor shoes.I too left at sixteen cos she made school a misery.Funny tho..I can't remember her denigrating my PE performance even though I wasn't very athletic.

annodomini Tue 26-Feb-13 10:06:06

Our PE teacher was the opposite. Useless. No discipline and not much knowledge of games like hockey. The senior girls organised the practices and coached the teams. We had a very good reputation for hockey if not for ladylike behaviour. No, miss, it wasn't me miss. I never touched her, miss. grin

glammanana Tue 26-Feb-13 11:22:07

Oh how I hated PE,all arms and legs and trying to get the ball in the netball net was an impossible task for me plus the fact that I had the skinniest legs in the school made for PE being very painful,that all changed when in the 4th yr Mr Hill's came as games teacher he was the reincarnation of Jason from Jason and the Argunaughts and the girls queuing up to join all the games teams doubled over night hmmbut I still never ever managed to get the ball in the net.

Gagagran Tue 26-Feb-13 12:23:04

Well sorry to be the odd one out girls but I loved our PE and Games mistress - Miss Williams. She even invited the netball team to her wedding and we went to view all the presents laid out in her home, as was the custom in the fifties.

I was in the netball team, tennis team, rounders team but not the hockey team - didn't care for hockey. We only had gym occasionally and it wasn't something any of us really enjoyed.

In summer we played rounders and having wicket-kept for my brothers playing cricket, I was invariably backstop. We also did athletics and my favourites were the long jump and discus. I also liked hurdles.

Outside school I played badminton and tennis in summer and rode my old bike everywhere so looking back I must have been a pretty sporty kid!

HUNTERF Wed 03-Apr-13 13:09:33

I think the school I went to was unusual in the fact it had a mixed traditional keep fit class and if you were rubbish at sports you were sent to do that instead of things like rugby or hockey.
It did cause some men to go to things like aerobics classes after they left school but I do know that most of the men are still doing some sort of exercise class now in their 60's.
Sadly the keep fit instructor left about 2 or 3 years after I left the school and as far as I know she was never replaced.
She passed away about 3 years ago and I was amazed how many of her ex male pupils attended her funeral.


gracesmum Wed 03-Apr-13 15:42:38

Do yo mean that these pupils are now female? grin

Galen Wed 03-Apr-13 15:51:37


HUNTERF Wed 03-Apr-13 18:42:51


They are obviously not female but there is something strange.
None of the boys in my year who did keep fit had a son. They all had 2+ daughters.
We are now at a point where all the daughters mainly got 2 children and they are all girls.
Did being sent to a mainly girl keep fit class have anything to do with it?.


Mishap Wed 03-Apr-13 19:27:58

I hated it with every fibre of my being. I was very skinny, very short-sighted (certainly couldn't see a hockey ball!) and had very poor balance. Sheer torture - and the teacher honed in on me to torment.

merlotgran Wed 03-Apr-13 19:54:04

agapanthus, I went to Maidenhead High for just one term in 1960. The headmistress was Miss Costello. I was waiting for a place at Wycombe High so wasn't there for very long. I don't remember doing much sport other than netball.

annodomini Wed 03-Apr-13 20:33:39

You are on to something there Frank. Or it could be female hormones in the water supply. shock

JessM Wed 03-Apr-13 20:37:52

Nice guest blog joan grin I am in your camp. Not particularly sadistic PE teachers but anything involving a ball was not my scene at all and I was not much good at gym either.
We had no playing fields in our girls grammar and it was a 20 minute walk up to the top of the hill where the hockey field was. I soon sussed that if you played goal you didnt have to do anything really, just avoid the ball grin
I too looked athletic and, very embarrassingly, was voted form games captain in my first term, because I looked the part and no-one had seen me in a games lesson at that point.
PE teachers still rather obsessed with team games involving balls.
I think PE is the reason we are such an inactive nation.
I have no idea what kind of offspring any of the people I went to school with had, if any. Am I normal?

bookdreamer Wed 03-Apr-13 20:45:26

joan. Love to read your posts, they're all beautifully written and bring the subject matter alive. I see you're in a writing group and I can see why.

GinnyTonic Wed 03-Apr-13 20:49:19

I loved everything about school apart from gym, where I was so obviously unsuited that I eventually broke my neck in two places . I was supposed to jump from a trampette, land & do a forward roll, but got the sequence wrong!
That was before the days when parents sued schools, so I spent six months in plaster then just got on with my "O" levels.
I'm not sure that gym toughened us up - the nuns did that with barely raising their voices or their eyebrows - but thats another story.