‘Compulsory sport’ that term still gives me nightmares. There was lots of talk about it in today’s media after our disappointing results at the Olympics.
The argument about funding elite athletes for medals, or concentrate our money for schools and grass-root sport has been around ever since the Fraser government created the Australian Institute of Sport.
Of course, in principle, sport is a good thing. I love watching sport (as anyone who has read this blog would attest) and just three weeks ago I was able to complete a half marathon , it is the ‘compulsory’ thing that evokes in me very unhappy memories.
It is probably very different now. I went to school in the 70s. A time where being bullied was seen by the school and teachers as ‘character building’. No sharing and caring anti-bullying policies or counseling, you had either become an arsehole yourself, or just suffer in silence.
Sport was seen in the same context. It started in primary school where because of my height I was earmarked for basketball. But height is all I had. Being deprived of ball handling skills ( stop sniggering you at the back) since birth I saw the arrival of the ball towards me with panic, which meant that I would routinely drop the ball. And there is nothing more pathetic on the court when under the basket recoiling at rebounds protecting your face with your hands because you are afraid of the ball hitting your nose. I sort of figured out that staying as far away from the ball was my best bet. I can’t remember what happened at the end. Probably the disgust of my team mates and the protests the teacher in charge would have received by forcing me on their teams meant that, mercifully, I didn’t need to go anymore.
Going to sporty Australia wasn’t the best career move in this regards. I woke up every Wednesday with dread because of sport day. I had problems integrating in the school anyway. This was just amplified with sport. The only games that I got involved were games of wits, how I could get out of it. And surprisingly I could. As the ‘fat kid’ teachers knew that I wasn’t much chop and while the rest were on the field I could be left alone.
The best thing that ever happened was when in year 11, when they included ten pin bowling. Fuck me dead, I thought, why didn’t they do this before? A ‘sport’ with minimal effort, where you sit down most of the time, was indoors in climate controlled venues and you can muddle your way through. But best of all it had a cafeteria with lollies, chocolate and pies! What more did I want?
But alas this didn’t last long. We moved to Melbourne to a new school, which didn’t muck around with sport, it was Melbourne High. I started to play golf with my father so I chose that. And another stroke of luck (sort of speaking) the golf co-ordinator was my Australian History HSC teacher, and as such he told me many times to go home and study. And the other good thing was that only another student and I were doing golf, and he didn’t mind my ineptitude. So those golf session actually became a welcome break from the rigors of studying for my HSC.
But overall ‘compulsory sport’ was a awful. And all that stuff about learning to work as a team, helping each other, learning to win and lose was crap for me. Because all I felt was useless, hopeless and unwanted. My time would have been better used elsewhere.
Of course, as I said before, times change. And I am sure that now sport at school is not seen as always a competitive pursuit. Children are much more sedentary now. They don’t walk to school as much and their activities are more based on games on portable consoles and computers. So learning to move, and thinking that is a normal part of life is important. But that is what should be, a health initiative. A space where even the ‘fat kid’ is not shamed and derided for his or her lack of co-ordination and sporting ability. And by all means let’s encourage the kids who are talented and competitive, but children are different. A sport ‘one size fits all’ won’t work.