New survey finds that many children give up sport to avoid abuse.
In an age when we are all too well aware of the increase in childhood obesity and the health benefits of keeping fit, the fact that children at primary school are being put off PE is a real worry.
The survey by Marylebone Cricket Club in partnership with the Chance to Shine campaign surveyed 1,250 schoolchildren aged 8-16years and found that 51% of them had been a victim of mental intimidation during sport. Worryingly half of the 8 year olds surveyed said that they had been teased or threatened during lessons.
Most of us have clear memories of PE at school, for some people they are good ones but for others they are very negative recollections.
Personally I loathed PE from as far back as I can remember, with school sports day being a ritual public humiliation! In later life I discovered that I am cross lateral, meaning that I am right handed but left eye dominant; a condition which causes coordination problems (explains my aerobics class difficulties!) . Back then I was just rubbish at sport!
When I did my teacher training in the mid 90s we were given a list of things never to do when teaching sport which included;
- always practise skills before playing a game (Eg – how to actually hit a ball with a rounders bat) otherwise the naturally sporty get better whilst the less able are quickly out of the game and don’t get better.
- Never belittle or humiliate children who are not good at sport.
This may well have been the core ethos of HOW TO teach sport for most of my teachers! I spent many an hour making daisy chains after being out at rounders whilst the sporty kids carried on getting better and better.
In fact by secondary school a regular group of us sports haters had perfected the technique of getting out of sport by instantly failing and spending the rest of the lesson at the side (high jump was great for this!)
I cannot imagine any other subject teachers being allowed to yell “RUBBISH!” at someone who was struggling in the way that my secondary sports teachers did daily. In a maths lesson little Timmy is having difficulty with trigonometry, “ABSOLUTELY USELESS!’ roars his maths teacher and strides off shaking his head, not offering any constructive help, whilst his classmates snigger. I think not!
A large number of the children surveyed cited bullying from other pupils as a reason for disliking sport. I have often witnessed how some children, often those who are very good at sport, become frustrated with their less skilled classmates and abuse them verbally and physically. 67.4 % said they had seen verbal abuse and 55 % had seen physical violence inflicted on other children, such as deliberate tripping or pushing or even being hit with sports equipment such as tennis racquets.
I can remember committing the terrible sin of taking more steps than permitted in netball when I had the ball, only to be lambasted mercilessly by the rest of my team for a good few minutes. I still shudder at the thought of netball! Would this have been allowed if I had made a mistake in Literacy?
Teachers can and will intervene and resolve the situation but often the damage is done and the victim’s perception of their own sporting ability is dealt another blow.
And then we come onto the other aspect of sports lessons which were hated, even by those who liked sports – the changing rooms. I would like to know who thought that communal showers were a great idea for self conscious young people whose bodies are changing dramatically as they go through adolescence! We actually had one PE teacher who used to strip off and get in with us! This seems unbelievable today but it was only the mid 1980′s!
For many children the changing rooms were a place of abject torture where there was little supervision and bullies had carte blanche to do their worst.
Getting changed for PE is actually a major issue for many primary schools, girls especially are hitting puberty at a younger age, so many girls in Y5 and 6 are uncomfortable about getting changed in front of other girls, never mind all the boys in their class. I taught Y5 until recently and the girls in my class used to go and get changed in the toilets which wasn’t ideal but there was no other option. Primary schools rarely have changing rooms so this means half the class getting changed largely unsupervised. There were incidents of cruel comments and bullying behaviour occasionally, they were dealt with but I’m sure they weren’t quickly forgotten.
As children move through secondary school they often find that competitive sports or team sports aren’t for them, being forced to persist with them can put them off sport for life. Fortunately PE teachers nowadays seem to be an entirely different breed to those that I encountered and I have witnessed some amazing sports teaching in high schools where the teachers are endlessly patient and positive. However, why can’t the less sporty be allowed to spend their PE time keeping fit in a gym or swimming or jogging independently rather than being forced to participate in something that they dislike and find stressful? I would have been much happier to do this when I was at school and would probably have kept up with sport after school much more than I did. We all appreciate the importance of sport for schoolchildren but maybe we need to be more flexible and accept that one size does not fit all.
Following the findings of the survey, Chance to Shine now plan to go into schools promoting an ethos of respect for all within sports to try to curb aggression, bullying and mental intimidation amongst children.
Wasim Khan, chief executive of Chance to Shine, said: ‘We are teaching children from a young age to play competitively but to respect the opposition as well as their team mates. We need to stamp out this bullying in school sport.’
What do you think? Has your child experienced bullying during school sports or did you experience it at school and how did it affect your attitude to sports in later life?