Remember those for whom sport is hell

The Olympics has quite rightly generated a lot of enthusiasm for sport in the UK after all those shiny medals were won, and that's fine. To be honest, I found the Olympic thing much more interesting than I thought I would. But there is one clamour that I think needs a little balance.

We have Boris Johnson, for instance, weighing in saying that schools should institute 2 hours compulsory sport a day like he enjoyed at school, and all the Tories are baying about the importance of forcing competitive team sport on young people. I absolutely understand their aversion to 'everyone is equal and there are no winners and losers' type inclusive sports days.


In all this enthusiasm to force our youth into as much compulsory competitive sport as possible, spare a thought for the poor people like me who hated sport at school. I didn't mildly dislike it - I truly found it the most unpleasant experience of my life. Think of the poor sods like me who were truly rubbish at sport. Who never had a hope of coming in the first twenty in a race. Who were always the last ones picked when teams were chosen.

Football wasn't bad as I fairly quickly got the position of dog catcher. There were two dogs (Prince and Rex if memory serves - very regal stray dogs, we had in Manchester) who constantly invaded our school football pitches and tried to get possession of the ball. The only hope of having a game was if someone fended off the dogs and that I was very happy to do as long as I didn't have to come close to that leather, mud-coated monstrosity.

But the rest was hell, and our PE teacher, one Mr Welsby, really was of the evil sadist mould that you often see portrayed in humorous fiction. Cross country running was a constant agony as I suffered badly from stitches. Cricket was a nightmare as I couldn't hit the ball, run quickly enough or catch. We'll draw a veil over lacrosse, rugby and swimming lessons that (genuinely) would be a criminal offence if still operated as they were then. And the gym was vast embarrassment as I couldn't do a forward roll without falling over sideways, couldn't make it over the vaulting horse and couldn't climb a rope. And still couldn't after four years of gym classes. Then throw in the horror of communal showers and you've got something Dante would be proud of.

It's easy to make all this sound funny, but it really wasn't. We had two hours of outdoor sport and one hour in the gym a week. If we had suffered the regime Boris suggested I genuinely would have contemplated suicide. These were the most horrible hours of my young life. If we had been able to play something like badminton or table tennis, it might have been different. But traditional school team sports were a horror for me, and I can't believe I was the only one.

So by all means celebrate the Olympic triumphs. Do consider how we can get our youth exercising. But don't make it the sort of experience I had for people who think that a kick around with a ball is on a par with waterboarding.

Image from Wikipedia


  1. The good news is that all this talk of sport at school will have been forgotten in a couple of weeks, when the gas bill comes in for the Olympic park.

    It all sounded like a lot of bandwagon jumping to me. Cameron knows he won't be here to have to do it.

  2. My experience was rather different. I wasn't keen on school sports (enjoyed hockey, hated netball with a vengeance). But I loved out-of-school sports - riding, judo and later kung fu, shooting, canoeing.

    Hopefully, if this shift does come in schools, the emphasis will be on physical activities rather than solely on competitive sports. So maybe dancing, cycling, skateboarding, climbing walls, orienteering and suchlike. It does seem that a lot of kids are much less active than when I was a kid - at my school there were two "fat kids" (one boy, one girl) - nowadays, overweight kids are commonplace and surely something has to be done about that.

  3. I couldn't agree more! I was useless, totally useless at sport at school, and hated every minute of it. What strikes me is that even in the 1960s, I never heard a teacher ridicule a child for being UNABLE to do academic work, but with sport that was the norm. Typical comments were: (in the gym) "Stop sitting in the corner hugging yourself". "You have no idea about netball, and it's time you did". Fortunately cross-country runs were unaccompanied, so you could run round the corner, wait, and join up with those who had really done the run right at the end!

  4. Peter - gas bill is priceless.

    Sara - I think I'm not really disagreeing - I enjoyed table tennis and badminton similarly, they just weren't what I was forced to play at school. I do absolutely agree about exercise, although arguably it was more about the way we spent our spare time running around playing outside rather than in front of the TV/computer back then.

    Good point about the ridicule from teachers, Wendy - I had forgotten that.

    What strikes me as odd is that pretty well all our success in the Olympics was from individual sports (ok rowing/sailing could be more than one person but still not a team in the conventional sense) but David Cameron says we need more team sports like hockey and football. What he means, I suppose, is that team sport are cheaper.


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