Physical education made me hate exercise as an adult – that’s how I got over it
A tsunami of green and yellow rushed from the locker rooms into the lobby, accompanied by the sound of squeaky sneakers and teenage gossip. We all looked alike, thanks to our obligatory playset, even though we didn’t feel it.
Every physical education lesson began the same way: I would sit down with my friends to whisper what our plans were for the coming weekend, while the teacher, Miss Williams *, called the girls at her gym. sport to discuss their next race – apparently ignoring the rest of us. . Finally, she clapped her hands and explained that hockey was the order of the day.
“Which of you is playing? Miss Williams asked, her eyes already fixed on girls known to be athletic. “Here are the keys, open the cupboard and pick out a hockey stick,” she said, throwing them at them with a smile.
By the time the rest of the class, including me, reached the closet, we were left with damaged and broken hockey sticks and minimal enthusiasm. Feeling miserable and demotivated, we spent the remaining time trying to hit the ball back and forth, but mostly discussing what to watch on Netflix.
The teacher noticed that we were struggling, but she didn’t care. We were not his priority.
Promote an active and healthy lifestyle. Develop a level of fitness. Encourage students to work as a team. The goal of PE should be clear: to teach students about the joy and importance of exercise from an early age, so that it continues into adulthood.
So why can it sometimes feel like physical education is more about focusing only on those who may want to work in sport when they are older, or who are already enjoying it and participating in it? outside of compulsory courses? And why don’t the general classroom rules of mutual respect seem to matter so much when students swap desks for an icy netball field or a resounding gym?
While it is true that we experience this behavior in all subjects at school (teachers cling to those who show obvious potential), when it comes to exercise, it seems harder. and, in a way, more personal. It can also create long-term negative connotations with something that is integral to our well-being – and people like me who had a bad experience during PE are far from rare.
A 2017 report from Women In Sport found that while 78% of girls aged 14 to 16 understand that physical activity is important, only 28% enjoy participating. It’s something that 22-year-old graduate Jessica Barton can relate to as well.
As sweat trickled down her back and she stopped to catch her breath, Jessica felt her legs burn fiercely. She tried to keep her eyes on the other runners, her classmates, who had long passed her on the cross-country terrain. She held back the tears that threatened to spill out.
Then the person who should have guided her through her pain and the run – her teacher – shouted across the field loud and clear: “Move, my. Grandmother could run faster than you! “Jessica said at that point, a decade ago, she wished the ground had swallowed her whole. Her face still reddens at the memory now.
This competitive attitude adopted by some (but not all) physical education teachers can easily create feelings of fear and unease associated with exercise, says Nicky Adams, director of Full of Beans Children’s Fitness and Sports Coaching. “Competition can add stress to the situation and then the skill level tends to drop causing feelings of shame.”
Dr JosÃ©phine Perry, sports psychologist and author of The ten pillars of success, adds that she works regularly with adults struggling with sport because âthey don’t have what you might call a ‘sport identity’, they can’t consider themselves a ‘sporty’ person because we always told them they weren’t in school. ”
She adds that memories of always being the last person chosen for a team can be hard to shake as we move into adulthood, and only being exposed to a small number of sports in PE can also. contribute to these negative experiences. “We’re not all going to be good at the same sports and so if you don’t like – or aren’t performing – [whatâs taught] in physical education class, these feelings of embarrassment and the associated negativity can mean that you are less likely to go out and find a sport than you to do enjoy later in life. “
Mental health vs physical health
Physical education classes are not only an emotional and mental discomfort, but also a physical one, explains Hannah Cooper, a 33-year-old writer. Years later, she still feels deflated when she remembers a time she was put in goal by the director of physical education – and had to endure an hour of ‘exploded’ soccer balls against she by the other girls “with the clear intention of causing humiliation and pain.” “.
This act of bullying could be presented as âfriendly competitionâ when performed in front of a busy or otherwise engaged teacher. âMeanwhile, other equally terrified students were being yelled at by the teacher to work harder and ‘do better’,â says Hannah. “Whenever the ball went towards the goal post, I was actively running away from it, which of course made me scream at it aggressively.”
But, experts point out, it is possible to move beyond those heartbreaking memories of school time and exercise in adulthood: At the onset of the pandemic, like many, Jessica and her girlfriend made the joint decision to challenge Couch to 5k to stay active during lockdown. And at first, Jessica says she “refused to run and had flashbacks” of being ridiculed as a schoolgirl.
“I struggled a lot at first, so much so that I walked or biked the first Couch to 5k sessions my girlfriend did,” she adds, but happily says, with encouragement from her partner, she was able to develop her self-confidence. in his ability to run and didn’t stop when the going was tough. Now, for the very first time, Jessica says she enjoys exercising.
For Hannah, after a long time of feeling self-conscious about exercising with others, things changed when she was convinced by a coworker to join the mixed and adults-only netball team at. the business – where the focus was on having fun while playing, rather than taking home trophies.
âWhen we finished last in the league, we piled right into the pub to celebrate that we had had a great time,â she said. “I’m so glad I agreed to participate. It was a window into how high school physical education should or could have been.”
Will things ever change?
Contrary to the horror stories shared by Jessica, Hannah and I, physical education teacher Abigail Chadd says she has spent her career “creating an environment that is respectful and where students are commended for their efforts, rather. that only for the end result, âsomething she feels can be extremely motivating. It’s inspiring to hear that there are brilliant coaches like her.
“I think the best adaptation that can be made is to have a [more] a balanced program that allows students to thrive in different areas, âcontinues Abigail. âPeople often perceive physical education to be just game-based, which is the case in some schools, but more forward-thinking schools will adopt a range of activities that are suitable for their learners. needs, such as Zumba, yoga, and rock climbing. “
The teacher adds that students who are exposed to a range of activities are much more likely to engage positively. âOver the years, I have taught orienteering, yoga, dodge ball and dance,â she says, noting that âbeing a positive role model is extremely importantâ.
“In sport, there will always be a competitive dynamic, because that is what underlies the sport itself,” she notes. “But that’s the nature of How? ‘Or’ What it’s managed as part of physical education classes, which is essential. “
At this early stage of my exercise love learning journey, I struggled to identify exactly why I felt disconnected from it, until I realized I had to identify exactly what. that has made my experience so negative in the past – and figuring out how to overcome these factors.
Experimentation is also essential. Netball was fun for a short while, but quickly got too competitive. Cheerleading looked great, the bows pretty and hanging out with my friends, but again, performance took priority over fun.
Getting back to a tennis racket and relearning the basics, but this time in a healthier setting (which didn’t take my abilities into account), was the turning point for me. As I kicked the ball back and forth through the net, this time with far greater enthusiasm than I had with a hockey puck all those years ago, the surge of endorphins that I I wanted to finally kick in. To love exercise is to regain control. . All students – all adults – are worthy of taking up space and deserving of priority.
* The name has been changed.
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