Thursday, 22 May 2014

A Question Of PE

Physical Education: welcome to the most trialing lesson there is.

Stick a load of 9 year olds together and get two of them to pick people in their class to be on their teams. What happens?

Well, somebody's got to be always last.

Get those teams to play football. What happens? Miss Always-picked-last is enthusiastic and wants to be part of it. Trouble is, she can't even kick the ball right, let alone pass it to someone else on her team, so she's usually left out of the action.

Try some rounders instead. What happens? Miss Always-picked-last rarely gets the chance to bat because of the sheer number of people on her team. She always misses anyway and she's slow around the posts so it doesn't really matter. And on field, her catching is mediocre and her throwing at the same level.

Okay, ditch the teams. Move onto badminton. Try a rally like this one:

Try it without any instruction on serving. What happens? Miss Always-picked-last misses the shuttlecock and then fails on serving several times before passing the shuttlecock over the net to the next person by hand, causing her enough embarrassment that would make her give up on sport if her unrealistically optimistic enthusiasm never got in the way.

The result of all this? One halfway-good game of cricket makes her think that she must be brilliant at this despite having played before with little success, and this leads her to give up time every week to go to an arranged group that was really supposed to be for people who were decent at this game. And then get disparaged when she found she wasn't all that good. Tch.

Cue high school. A larger range of activities, proper instruction in lessons, more time devoted to the skills in each sport rather than just playing it. And when they did play it, it was more common that the teachers did the team organizing themselves rather than letting two kids pick their groups. There were also a lot more times where teams weren't needed in the first place. It was better all around, and Miss Always-picked-last even spent time going to sporty clubs in her second year of high school (Dance, Trampolining, and Badminton). She had far more realistic expectations of her own abilities and could enjoy these activities as they stood.

The problem is, loads of schools don't have the space to host varying activities. Loads of schools don't have the equipment to bring a variety of both team and individual sports to the table of PE so that kids who have difficulties with the mainstream sports (which almost always are team sports and rely on the kid's classmates to be fair - which will never happen) can find something that they enjoy. PE as a lesson is often tailored for the kids who already are playing footie at the bottom of the playground, and doing extra activities, rather than those who don't do much extra. And a good proportion of those who don't do extra activities are driven in to school and spend their free time on video games and watching TV (or just sitting/standing around in the playground at school). And the other proportion are klutzes like me who do get exercise but who don't particularly perform well in sports for various reasons, and plenty of them are not impervious to that fact.

We have a problem with obesity at this very moment - and it's in kids as well as adults. And the answer to getting more kids to exercise, unfortunately, is not more PE, in the current state of the subject. It's better PE, and a change in parental attitude as well. Better PE means doing a variety of activities that will get kids interested and engaged, and will help less sporty kids find an activity they well may like. Not everything can be done in a school, of course, but you can be creative with the supplies you have, and focus on the techniques of each sport you can accommodate for. And finding an enthusiasm for a sport can lead to the kid going to extra activities. And the change in parental attitude? Walk the kids to school, don't drive them. (or in the case of high school pupils, let them walk by themselves) If this is an impossibility due to practical reasons (the school's more than a 45 minute walk away), then take a walk with the kids at some point every day, even if it's just 10 minutes. Get into the habit of walking daily, and the kids will too.

After all, a little exercise goes a long way.

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