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Children who Don’t Excel at Sport Need to be Shown they Don’t Have to Hate PE

You don’t have to excel at sport to enjoy participation and feel its benefits – but what if students don’t know that? A letter to every PE teacher I ever had…

  • Children who Don’t Excel at Sport Need to be Shown they Don’t Have to Hate PE

Dear Miss/Ma’am/Sir

First of all, I’m sorry for the generic nature of this letter. I know it’s not very personal – but the truth is, I really do have exactly the same thing to say to each of you, because I was treated exactly the same by all of you. As though I didn’t exist.

I realise that I was never likely to be your favourite pupil. You preferred the strong kids, the fast kids, the capable kids – and I can understand that. They were like you, after all.

I was skinny, and clumsy, and uncoordinated. If I wore my glasses, I’d spend the whole session terrified of breaking them; but if I didn’t, I could barely see further than my own feet. The art of throwing a ball was a mystery to me; catching one would have been a miracle.

But you see, Miss/Ma’am/Sir – I really, really did want to do well in your lessons. I did well in everyone else’s, after all, and I was used to praise from teachers, not disdain.

So I tried. I tried my hardest, pushing my spindly body to its limits, and obeying your every instruction, instantly. You didn’t notice.

Your favourites, meanwhile, messed around, teasing each other and being so cheeky towards you that I was inwardly horrified – but you didn’t seem to care.

And then they’d score a goal, or win a tackle, or jump the furthest, and you’d be all smiles and cheers.

I don’t remember you ever smiling at me.

By the time I left primary school, I’d learnt to loathe everything about your subject. It was a trial that I had to endure, never a chance to learn new skills, let alone have fun.

I still behaved myself for you, because that was the kind of pupil I was, but I’d wake up on days with PE ahead of me, and feel sick at the thought of it.

Often I’d cry in the changing rooms as I struggled to pull on my kit without showing the other girls my underwear; sometimes, I’d be in tears during the lesson, too. Not that you ever saw. You weren’t looking.

It took me years to stop hating my body for its weakness and lack of grace, Miss/Ma’am/Sir. And I know you didn’t mean it, but you had a part to play in that.

It would have been so easy for you to have built my confidence, just a little. I didn’t want much from you – just to have my efforts acknowledged, and my achievements, however relatively pathetic, recognised. But as far as you were concerned, I may as well have been invisible.

I have two children of my own now – both girls. One is in Y5, and the other started secondary school last September. They’ve both inherited my ungainliness and rubbish eyesight, poor things.

Like me, neither is ever going to be an Olympian. They won’t be bringing home medals, nor letters for me to sign so they can take part in county competitions. And they’ll certainly never win a running race.

But guess what? Unlike me, they don’t dread days when PE is on the timetable. In fact, they look forward to them – because, dear Miss/Ma’am/Sir, things have changed.

My daughters have been taught, and not only by me, that physical activity can be enjoyed for its own sake; that everyone can improve with attentive coaching, even if they’ll never be the best; and that there’s much, much more to sport than whose names are on the trophies.

I’m glad for them. I’m grateful to their brilliant teachers. And Miss/Ma’am/Sir… I’m sorry for you; because actually, with all that focus on coming first, I’m not sure you enjoyed your subject much more than I did.

Yours sincerely

The girl you never saw

Do you think PE should remain on the curriculum throughout KS3 and 4? Email editor@teachsecondary.com and share your views…

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