Why I Hated Sport at School (yet still become a fitness blogger)

Sometime in 2012 when I first wrote this piece there was a HUGE discussion going on on my twitter feed (and the newspapers) that I had strong opinions on. At that point, I couldn’t express them in 140 characters – and so I decided hey, this is my blog if I want to have a rant I will.

At the time, I wrote the piece it was pretty much just the rant – but then I decided to make it a bit more useful- so, welcome to Why I Hated Sport at School (yet still became a fitness blogger) version 2.0.

row of illustrated medals

The Issue

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

Cue people like Piers Morgan and London Mayor (now Prime Minister) Boris Johnson calling for a compulsory two hours of PE a day in state schools to try and create a new generation of champions from my diverse background.

Nice idea but…

That’s great for the sporty kids – but 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?

I certainly wouldn’t be getting any medals!

Why I Hated Sport at School

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 my awful experience 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.’ They just let me fail.

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. But you can’t practise if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.

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 an academic classroom.

What Changed For Me…

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 a grown woman – netball shouldn’t make me cry.

So, how can YOU learn to enjoy exercise too?

It can be done. I proved it. And you can do it too with the help of the following steps…

1. Find a sport you think you’ll enjoy.

The way that’s usually suggested to do this is to ‘just go and try some’. Now, there’s a statement written by someone who used to be the hockey captain!

No seriously, it does work – for some people, But, if my past experiences sound like yours that’s probably not going to work as a starting point. Instead, you want to give yourself a fighting chance of success by ruling out what you’re going to hate – and, instead, pinpoint the qualities of things that you might enjoy.

A lovely exercise to do this is to pinpoint your what’s going to make you happy about your workout by asking yourself a few questions

Do you love being around other people or would you prefer to exercise solo?

Do fresh air, the sounds of nature – and yes, even a bit of rain makes your heart sing – or would you prefer to be warm and dry in the gym?

Do you like to set goals, compete with yourself or others – or prefer no pressure?

How are you with balls, bats and people throwing projectiles at you at speed?

What about wheels? Are they fun – or would you prefer to stick with feet?

What did you love doing as a teenager or child? Is there a workout that incorporates that type of sport or movement now? 

Make a list of as many things that would make you happy about your workout as possible – then, look around to find a workout that presses as many of you those happy buttons as you can. Those are the ones you should check out.

2. Are there ‘fear-friendly’ versions of your workout to get you started?

Things have moved on since school days and there are now many ways to work out – and some of them are actively set up for the exer-nervous.

If you like dancing, for example, have a look at a class like Clubercise that not only lets you dance to music, it’s done in the dark so you don’t have to worry about going the wrong way (and trust, me, I always go the wrong way and I love Clubbercise!)

If you enjoyed football, hockey or netball, but are a bit worried about keeping up at first, then you’ll find walking versions of many sports that use the same skills but at a slower pace for people getting back into the game.

And there’s the home workout revolution. With online training, you can do a class with 20 other people from your own lounge – so no-one sees what you’re doing.

If you want to join a running club, have a look at Parkrun – they are huge. And really do cater for everyone no matter what speed you go. 

Use these versions of the workouts to get your confidence up before you try full-on versions.

Another thing I learned over time – try the new classes at the gym. No-one knows what the heck they are doing when a class first starts and it’s usually less intimidating than walking into a room where everyone already knows each other and which foot goes where. 

3. Think about taking some lessons or getting a trainer

There’s a reason even elite athletes who are naturally made to hit things, jump over things or run faster than a speeding bullet have coaches, they can help you get better. And that then helps build your confidence to strike out on your own.

4. Do a bit of research

It helps if you know a little bit about what to expect from a new sport like what to wear or what language people use.

We’re starting to add guides like this to the site so check out posts like our Beginners Guide to Pilates which tells you everything you need before you step into your first Pilates class – and, The Running Dictionary, which translates all those odd terms runners use.

If you’re thinking of joining a class, team or group sneak along and watch first – then you’ll get an idea of how things work and what the level of the other exercisers is. 

If running is your thing you can check times for clubs or events online and see if you think you’ll fit in. Is there someone you can see from the results that runs at the same pace as you- then try and find them and buddy up.

I joined my first running club after I met them in the pub – I knew at this point they were my people! There were all different shapes, sizes, ages – and, it turned out speeds and with them behind me (well usually in front as I’m not a very fast runner…) I ran 27 half marathons, two marathons and the Goofy Challenge in about eight years. Not bad for the girl picked last at rounders.

5. Take a friend

If you’ve got a friend who is up for anything – and who always leaves you laughing when you do it, make them go with you. You won’t feel as nervous and chances are you’ll have fun even if you do decide you suck at whatever it was you tried.

6. Ask us for help

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.

So if you’re reading this and have questions you want answering, please ask them in the comments and I’ll try and get the answers for you.


images: freedigitalphotos.net

2 thoughts on “Why I Hated Sport at School (yet still become a fitness blogger)”

  1. 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.

    • 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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