How to get kids to hate sport & ruin an Olympic legacy

The olympics have been awesome. It’s been great to see triumph, it’s been heart wrenching to watch the disappointment. We’ve seen rowers being dragged to their feet by Sir Steve, people competing on fractured bones, crashes, near misses and the joy of simply competing.

There are some that sadly, have forgotten what the Olympics are about. It’s not just about winning. It’s about  your work being rewarded with the honour of representing your country and competing alongside athletes from across the globe.

To quote one of my favourite films “If you aren’t enough without it [a gold medal], you’ll never be enough with it“.

As a graduate of health science, I’m all for getting kids active. I’ve really done my best to get people excited about the Olympics, encouraging my parenting friends to watch it with their kids. At Guides, we combined the Amelia’s Challenge badge with the ‘On Your Marks’ programme that Girlguiding created to tie in with London 2012. I’m hoping they’ve been watching (I did tell them they all had to know who Beth Tweddle was by the end of the summer) and I’m hoping they’ve been inspired by it.

And then I heard the disappointing and frustrating news today that our Prime Minister is backing compulsory competitive sports in the school curriculum.

ARRRRGGGGHHHH!

For me it brought back memories of being forced to do certain sports at PE in school. I was terrible. It became that being good at team sports made you popular. It wasn’t about taking part. If you screwed up, your team moaned and shouted at you. Even if you did your best. It was humiliating and horrible. By the time high school came around, it turned into bullying and I used to skive school on days I had PE.

Here’s the flip side. Was I an inactive kid  because I was the one who got picked almost to last or preferred to sit and sunbathe on the sidelines that take part in a game of rounders or tennis?

No.

I used to take part in dance classes – 2 a week going into high school. When we were getting ready for exams or a show, sometimes I might be dancing for 5 hours a day. I’d come home with a bag of sweaty leotards, feet blistered and cut and next day my muscles would hurt so bad in school.

I remember my friend Emily feeling ill one day in PE as our teacher made us run round the playing field. She looked white. I stopped to sit with her (our teacher wasn’t really doing anything to help her and I was concerned). He shouted at me and I’ve never forgotten the words “Get moving! This is probably the only exercise you’ll have done this week“.

Red rag to a teenage bull.

I lost no time in setting him straight. The PE teacher at least had nothing to respond with.

The problem with PE, was that you never got a chance to get good at anything. The sporty kids got held back by kids like me who had no talent (or desire) for whatever sport had been forced upon us.And it was mostly team sports. Basketball, hockey, rugby… and PE teachers didn’t necessarily know much about the sport they were teaching. I would have loved the opportunity to improve on my swimming. I had a good breaststroke – my leg stroke (?) was great. My arm stroke sucked (I have no upper body strength). We spent one day on breaststroke in the 4 years I did compulsory high school PE! 2 weeks later I was being made to play rugby without my glasses on. 4 weeks after that hockey.

It is not the way to get kids into sport.

I’m now going to quote Olympic champion, Shawn Johnson. In her book Winning Balance she talks about her work with a US congressman to get kids more active.

“In a traditional PE class, kids might be drilled in the fundamentals of volleyball one day and then lined up and ordered to do push ups the next. It’s an approach many kids hate. And if they dread physical activity at this age, they’re much less likely to be concerned about staying fit later on”

When Jessica Ennis was asked her opinion on plans to get sports more competitive for kids she said it was more important to make it fun, the competitive side should come much later.

I agree.

I also love the idea of what Shawn Johnson Fitness for Life Act bill is doing. The idea is that pupils are given choices about how to spend their PE time. It might be lifting weights, playing a team sport or doing a Dance game on the Nintendo Wii. Whatever they choose the pupils wear heart rate monitors and know what their individual target heart rate is. And once they’ve reached their target, they’ve met their goal for the day and after that they can do what they want. Those who are less fit, or perhaps overweight will reach their target more easily. Those who are aspiring sports stars will have to work harder. The programme gives small successes – and achievable goals to kids who usually feel inferior to the sporty kids.

The real goal“, Shawn Johnson writes “is to help kids discover that exercise is fun“.

In the USA there seems to be much more incentive for sport – sports schloarships, extra curricular sport with decent coaches who know that sport well. Perhaps that’s why they are top of the Olympic table.

And then, you’ve got to look at the sports we have a great legacy in. Cycling was not an option at school. Neither was gymnastics. Or canoeing. Or rowing. Or athletics (other than running 100m races). I was appalled at my PE teacher’s idea of “dance”. Maybe it’s time we think outside of the box. Maybe we let the kids pick a sport to be involved in, the same as they get to pick an instrument to learn to play in music if they want to. Maybe we join forces with local colleges, universities, sports clubs and other schools so that resources can be brought together to give kids opportunity to learn a sport properly and have fun doing it.

Because really…if you don’t love the sport, you’re never going to want to push through the bad times and injuries to keep going towards the chance of Olympic medals.

And Politicians…you might want to think about that.

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