Why I Hated Sport at School

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There’s a HUGE discussion going on on my twitter feed (and the newspapers) at the moment that I have strong opinions on – and I can’t express them in 140 characters – and hey, this is my blog, if I want to have a rant I will. It’s about doing sport at school – or PE as we used to call it – a little something that nearly put me off exercise for life.

row of illustrated medals

After the success of Team GB in the Olympics Britain has gone medal crazy. But they have also realised that a high percentage of the medal winners are privately educated.

Cue people like Piers Morgan and London Mayor Boris Johnson calling for a compulsory two hours of PE a day in state school to try and create a new generation of champions.

That’s great for the sporty kids – what about the ones like me to whom the weekly PE session was something I dreaded – to the extent that I threatened to stop coming to school on PE days? 

As my sport at school experience stood I could see forcing me into two hours of PE a day triggering so much stress that I would actually have failed academically. And then where would I be?

Why I Hated Sport

As a little kid I was pretty active. I used to do gymnastics, I played badminton, I even have a vague recollection of doing hurdles (I think I was taller than the other kids, it was nothing to do with natural talent).

I’m not sure when things changed, maybe it was teen lack of confidence or just a change of school/peers but my memories of secondary school sport are horrific.

Netball brings back being screamed at by the mean girls when I dropped a ball or missed a shot (and I always dropped the ball or missed a shot); I remember crying while trying to climb a rope or being made repeatedly to try and jump onto a gym horse when there was no physical way I could do it and as for rounders – well you might as well just have stuck me in a field, chucked balls at my head and got people to laugh at me, because that’s what happened when we played it.  

The only time I ever remember enjoying sport at school was when, in the 5th form, we went to the gym and I discovered weights. At last, I could move in my own way, with no-one watching, no-one criticising and, no-one else depending on me for success or failure.

What I Think is Wrong with Sport at School.

I mentioned this before on twitter and was told ‘well if you’re bad at maths or English, you don’t give them up’ – my argument to this was ‘yes, but if you’re bad at maths or English someone helps you.’

And that’s my problem with the proposal as it stands to make kids do more sport at school.

While I absolutely believe kids need to do more exercise – we have the first generation of kids likely to die before their parents because of factor’s related to obesity and sport and exercise undoubtedly helps reduce risk of that.

I also believe that kids should actually compete in sport at school – this ‘no winners, no losers’ approach is daft. Get over it – life is hard sometimes. Some people win, some people lose and it’s good to know that! But, sport also needs to be TAUGHT like every other school subject.

At no point in my PE career did any teacher actually TEACH me – no-one said ‘if you do this, you will hit the ball.’ ‘If you do this you will climb that rope.’

If they had, I think things might have been very different – no, I still probably wouldn’t have been very good but at least I would have felt I had the necessary skills that allowed me to try, maybe even to practise or improve.

Just as you don’t leave a kid who’s floundering at maths to get on with, don’t leave one who’s floundering on the sports field.

Not least as the PE field seems to be an acceptable place for ridicule, bullying and intimidation for anyone who doesn’t succeed – again, something that wouldn’t happen in a classroom.

What Changed…

This all might seem strange for someone who runs a fitness blog to say. Does this mean I don’t exercise?

Well no. But, I’m lucky – I did find something I enjoyed in my years of exercise hell – the gym – and so when I got to adulthood and decided I needed to work out, I joined one and did weights and running.

Developing my fitness then allowed me to take up long-distance running – although I did have to develop a hell of a lot of internal strength to realise that it didn’t matter if I came last in any race I was competing.

And I have done.

But I’ve also run the Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World – a half marathon followed by a marathon. It’s the thing I’m proudest of achieving in my entire life. 

Despite that though I backed out of a recent 10km because other journalists were running it and I didn’t want to remember the humiliation of coming last in front of people who actually know me.

I still don’t play team sports – they started netball at a Boot Camp I was at recently, as soon as it began all the same feelings of inadequacy came back. I dropped out of the game and actually started to feel myself welling up with tears on the sidelines.

I’m 43 years old – netball shouldn’t make me cry.

So, I suppose my point is this if you’re going to increase sport in school, remember, not everyone is good at it – kids need to be able to choose whether they take part in team sports or individual pursuits like athletics or weightlifting where your personal best is what counts and if you make a mistake no-one yells at you except that little voice in your head that wants to achieve.

But most importantly, teachers must encourage the kids who aren’t naturally talented as much as they encourage the ones likely to be wearing sparkly things around the neck in a few years time.

My past experience is one of the reasons why NYNHB is set up as it is. I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated by exercise, to have those tears well up when you drop a ball or can’t do a move in a class (I still get that even now) – if we can explain things on here and help build your confidence, we’ve done our job. And if you’re reading this and have questions you want answered, please ask them in the comments and I’ll try and get the answers for you.

Right, rant over. What do you guys think? Did you enjoy sport at school or were you like me and find your love of fitness outside the classroom?


images: freedigitalphotos.net


  1. charlottehaighmacneil

    Totally with you on this, Helen. My experience with school sports was exactly the same and it put me off exercise of all sorts for many, many years. I agree with all you say and would add that in an ideal world there should be other activities for the kids who are no good at team sports – yoga or dance classes, say, which I would have enjoyed. Dropping the ball in netball might not feel so bad if you could do a good tree pose.

    1. healthehelen

      I find it interesting how many women journalists feel the same – I really do wonder what would have happened to us all academically if we had been made to do sports daily. I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed school as much as I did. I also regret that I can’t hit a ball – I’d love to be able to play tennis (cue frantic pitching off ‘can you beat my PE trauma’ feature…..)


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