PE; Physical Education or Public Embarrassment?

I was stunned by a mum of three children from South Africa who had been living in Melbourne, Australia for the past 10 years, when she asked me the following question;

Are PE teachers in the UK really as bad as the reputation they have to the rest of the world?

Perhaps I’m oblivious to this notion that other countries have about PE teachers over here being unenthusiastic, insensitive and sometimes likened to an emotionless drill sergeant. I was utterly taken a back and surprised by this suggestion at first, but on reflection, typical PE and games lessons in a British state school doesn’t exactly bring warming and joyful memories flooding back…

Any person that had to partake in primary school PE lessons before the millennium will distinctly remember the terrifying sinking feeling when you go out to your peg in the cloakroom and you have forgotten your PE kit. The polo shirt, little navy blue or black shorts and those plimsolls, those plimsolls! Not there, peg empty. This can only mean one thing, PE in your pants! That vivid memory alone is enough to make a grown adult cringe and squirm. To think about the unadulterated embarrassment, they felt having to run around the freezing school hall in nothing but their vest and underwear!

Aside from indoor PE, there was also the dreaded outdoor games; come rain or shine. Playing hockey outside in the middle of winter was nothing far from torture for the knuckles. Football on a waterlogged field which made running for a tackle like wading through treacle. Some schools were even “lucky” enough to have their own outdoor swimming pool so lessons were right there on the doorstep. Sounds ideal, right? Not when your class is scheduled for swimming lessons at the beginning of term in October! You were given no option but to learn quick, so you could constantly keep moving to ensure the blood was flowing properly to your extremities and they didn’t fall off in the icy water!

Its little wonder that many adults look back on their days of PE and wince a little. The thought of that one dreaded hour a week where you were subjected to partnering up with a kid in your class who wasn’t even your friend or forced to take part in a sport that you had little to no interest in. Is it possible that these irrational fears of PE, sport and exercise are subconsciously being handed over to our offspring like a hand-me-down of low self-esteem and poor coordination?

A poll of more than 1,250 adults found that almost a third (29.3%) of them stated that PE was their unhappiest experience of primary and secondary school, with women more likely to have bad memories than men. Are any of these adults that felt this way likely to let their children sit out from a PE lesson at the slightest whimper that they might not really enjoy it? Is it because they are projecting their own bad experiences onto their child? Is it possible that in that moment, when they have been confronted by their hopeless child, they are transported back to their childhood school days where they were standing in their pants wishing the ground would open up and swallow them, so they didn’t have to take part in PE without their kit that day? It’s very possible.

In a rational state of mind, parents now are fully aware the PE lessons are just not how they used to be. However, if they have an illogical fear of exercise and PE it’s extremely dangerous to passively let this leak into the minds of the children. Potentially creating them to uphold negative feelings and connotations towards physical activity, which may affect their confidence, teamwork and participation skills.

While of course it’s the school’s responsibility to ensure there is appropriate time, space and equipment for the PE lesson and its down to the teacher to teach it well, it also falls upon the parents to encourage and excite their children for PE day. Instead of igniting the fire of fear in their minds when it comes to wearing those plimsolls for a couple of hours a week, working with someone that isn’t their best friend and running around in the fresh, crisp air after sitting in a classroom for most of the day, instil confidence in them that they will have fun and enjoy it. If they see their Mum or Dad eager about playing sport or popping out to do some exercise, don’t you think they will want to be just like their very own superhero!?


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