Wednesday 24 June 1987

…Last ever PE lesson at this school.
Down the years it has always been deadly boring, taking in
commando rolls, hockey, basketball, gymnastics, flopping about,
messing around and loads more things.
I shall not miss it…

PE is the one primary school subject that humiliates you twice. If you’re not very good at, say, maths or English, it’s only your brain that gets punished. You can sit behind a desk and fail mentally. But if you’re not very good at sport, it’s your brain and your body that is given a drubbing. You are judged to be a failure both mentally and physically. And that is an immensely crushing experience, even to a child as young as six or seven.

But worse is to come. If you’re no good at PE at secondary school, you’re humiliated three times over: mentally, physically and psychologically. Your shortcomings on the football pitch or running track are branded not merely the product of a lack of stamina or poor brain power, but of a “bad attitude” or of “not trying hard enough”. And you can try harder, you can try as hard as you like, but if you simply can’t kick a ball straight, hold a racket in the right way, or run fast enough to avoid finishing last, the humiliation is unending.

I wasn’t headstrong, I wasn’t haughty; I wasn’t fat, I wasn’t thin. I just wasn’t very good. Yet a procession of teachers of all ages and genders deemed my inadequacy to be all my fault, and hence nobody ever tried to help me get better.

It did end, of course. But one of the curses of adolescence is the sense that everything that is bad is unending, and everything that is good is over too quickly.

(And here are some of those sports I’d been made to do at primary school: shinty; crab football; short tennis; non-stop cricket; ball skills; Olympic gymnastics; basketball; eight-a-side football; and running around in circles.)

One thought on “Wednesday 24 June 1987

  1. I too remember PE/games as the lowest of the low points in any school day, and I agree that the combination of mental and physical unpleasantness was the reason. The unpleasantness did not, however, contain any element of humiliation. The mental unpleasantness was simply that it was so bleeding boring, and the physical side consisted of the unpleasant sensations caused by physical exertion, the cold, wet and mud of outdoor activities, and of course the showers – although I was usually successful at dodging those; a useful trick was to fake having been in by stepping in a puddle to leave wet footprints back to where I was getting changed 🙂

    As for the psychological humiliation bit… that pretty much worked the other way round 🙂
    Being labelled as a “failure”… by someone who wants to be a teacher but is too thick, so can’t get a job teaching anything worthwhile and ends up doing PE. Hahahaha. Or by other boys… hmm, but they’re in the bottom set for everything and I’m in the top set for everything. Hahahaha, again. Not to mention that both categories of labeller are aware of being thickos and failures, and try to compensate by bullying little kids, which makes them pathetic worms.
    “Not trying hard enough”… Someone is actually expecting me to put effort into chasing a ball around a morass of mud? It’s that person who is “not trying hard enough”. Not trying hard enough to think, but instead just assuming that I should respect their orders because they are a teacher. Doesn’t work like that, mate. Respect is not automatic. It has to be earned. It may be reasonable to expect a dog to enjoy chasing a ball through the mud, but it’s not reasonable to expect me to, and trying to force me to fake enthusiasm for it because YOU VILL OBEY ZE ORDERS does not earn my respect, it earns my contempt.
    And this may well be labelled a “bad attitude” by someone who values unquestioning obedience to arbitrarily stupid instructions, but it’s not half such a bad attitude as holding that value in the first place…

    The iron-hard conviction that whatever unpleasantness they directed at me they were by far the major transgressor because their position was irrational and made no sense was a powerful psychological defence 🙂

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