The issue of school sports just won't go away. Today has brought two particularly interesting posts; Longrider wants to keep school sport free of government regulation while, over at Orphans of Liberty, James Higham has come over all mens sana in corpore sano.
The comments at OoL have been fascinating; for years I thought I was alone in my opinion of organised team games at school but I now see that there must have been many of us indulging in individual acts of rebellion and subversion in the face of an implacable enemy. If only we had been able to join forces!
My own school was an example of just how much can be done in the name of sport to alienate those who don't toe the team games touchline. I arrived at the age of ten, an active child used to walking long distances (this was before the two-car household became the norm) and keen on swimming and ice-skating, these being effectively the only sports on offer to the public in our area.
That being so, there was no reason to suppose I would not enjoy sport and, given opportunity and encouragement, do well at it. And then I met my nemesis; the games teacher. Let us call her Miss Fortune; it's close enough to the original.
Miss Fortune's stated aim was to "bring the bright children down a peg or two" in the interests of sticking up for the academic underdog - as a former pupil with distinctly mediocre qualifications who had come back to her old school to teach, she clearly felt she had scores to settle and did so with a vengeance.
The school wasn't top notch by any definition, though I am profoundly grateful for the academic and social education it gave me, and I think it's fair to say that even in an ideal world, none of us would have been troubling the Olympic team selectors, but Miss Fortune certainly did her bit to make sport as unattractive as possible.
Longrider describes how his success in other sports "counted for nothing at a school so deeply unimaginative that if the sport didn’t involve two teams squabbling over a ball on a muddy pitch, it didn’t exist." Miss Fortune suffered from a similar lack of imagination; her mind ran on a single rotating track of hockey, netball and athletics (and swimming on Thursdays - yes, she has appeared here before).
It also ran to a pre-arranged agenda; she chose, or perhaps I should say anointed, those who were destined to succeed at games and the rest of us were relegated to also-ran status - quite literally, on occasion; the results posted after the annual sports day frequently bore little resemblance to the participants' recollection of events.
Looking back now, I see that she had very limited expertise and must have lived in fear of being required to do something beyond it. Take gymnastics, for instance; the school had a well-equipped gym but we were never allowed to lay a finger on any of the apparatus, to the intense frustration of those of us who repeatedly asked to be taught to use it.
For the eight years I was there, it all gathered dust, completely untouched, except for the single occasion when we were, for some long-forgotten reason, required to dance round the vaulting horse (some of us fervently wishing that it could be set alight with Miss Fortune inside; years later, 'The Wicker Man' seemed uncannily familiar).
It's not as if I was devoid of any sporting ability. Miss Fortune's dislike of me meant that I had almost invariably incurred a punishment by the time we reached the sports field; as her default punishment was a three-mile cross-country run in difficult terrain, I usually managed to stay out of her vicinity until the end of the lesson - and, to her evident chagrin, ended up as a half-decent runner as well.
In fact, I proceeded to beat one of her Chosen in the 4,000 metres on sports day - though it never appeared on the results board; Miss Fortune, visiting the changing room afterwards, disqualified me for wearing the wrong coloured underwear.
All of this, besides getting some major baggage off my chest (thank you for listening!), is a long-winded way of saying that, however well-meaning the regulations or requirements, people like Miss Fortune do exist, and that no school aside from a small elite is going to have the staff or facilities to accommodate all possible types of sport without unrealistic financial investment.
That being so, it would surely be better to leave proper sports coaching and provision to outside clubs - nothing to stop them coming into schools as guests, of course - and allow schools to choose the level and type of physical activity on offer to suit the location, expertise of staff and interests of the parents.
James Higham makes a good point about activity being necessary - not too long ago, of course, children walked to school - but this does not mean they should be subjected to all the horror of team games.
Remember, if history is always written by the winners, team games are almost always taught - and advocated - by those who succeeded at them.
(Given the above, it is with a certain amount of wry amusement that I discovered that, according to the BBC's completely pointless 'which Olympic sport best matches your physique' gadget , I am exactly the same height and weight as a member of the British women's gymnastics team - a shame it's several decades too late!)
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