As a bewildered eleven year old, the transition from my local state primary school to a nearby independent secondary school was a reasonably smooth one. For me, leaving behind those years between four and eleven meant little more than parting from a succession of shiny, really quite ugly, brown polyester jumpers, each a little larger than its predecessor, and memories of the strange school nurse routinely shuffling out to the playground to spread weird green sawdust on the latest prolific offering of child vomit, and shuffling back inside again to mutter to her statue of Buddha. In her defence, he did look like a good listener.
My time at primary school involved many formative experiences, notwithstanding the genesis of my realisation that the prevalent sporting gene within my family had spontaneously decided to skip me entirely. There are a few hazy memories of being picked very nearly last for teams, only just pipping to the post the overweight and the chronic asthmatics. It all just seemed to me to be speculatively pointless. Why would I want to dribble a ball? How would this ever serve me? And running – what were we running to, or from, and why? Where was the rationality? Where was the dignity? Try and find imagery synonymous with ‘time wasting’ and you will find an image of some poor soul attempting in vain to correct the blinding misdirection of my erroneous, ten year old throws. Sport at primary school, however, was never anything to be taken seriously, so I stumbled onward, my severe lack of skill going generally unnoticed.
Entering secondary school was another kettle of fish, however. On the second day of Year Seven, I was introduced to something called Triple Games. Triple Games was, in essence, three periods of obligatory ‘fun’ stretched abundantly over one joyless afternoon – a dogmatic manifestation of our school’s dedication to the gods of Organised Sport and the sacrifice of the dignity of sportingly challenged pubescents upon its altar. After several miserable weeks of scrutiny it was deigned that I be placed in the sixth team – the indefatigable ‘F’ team.
I am still incredulous as to why they felt the need to so markedly label us according to ability – the only explanation I can come up with is sadism. ‘Squaddies, in the sports hall! Non-squad, outside!’ rings in my head even now. Need I explain how good it feels when the name of the ‘team’ to which you belong is not regarded as an entity in itself but instead the negation of another entity? And so the ‘squaddies’ would leap up like gazelles in the spring, giggling and flicking their hair as we, the Non-Squad, would heave ourselves to our feet with dread and self-loathing.
I’m just going to interject that I see limited logic in forcing a group of people too unskilled to efficiently function in a sporting context outside in December when it is sleeting, and then making them remove their tracksuits – why make us BUY tracksuits if you’re not going to let us WEAR them – bare legs exposed to the elements. ‘FASTER GIRLS, FASTER! IF YOU STOP MOVING WE ARE STARTING ALL OVER AGAIN! NO YOU MAY NOT PUT ON YOUR TRACKSUIT TOP LIZZIE IT IS NOT THAT COLD!’ the games teacher would bellow in manly timbre from the sidelines, watching as we dragged our panting bodies around the field for the fifth time, rueing the days we were born, our tears moistening the earth beneath. (It always occurred to me in these moments how ironic it is that games teachers are often so rotund. No, maybe YOU should whip off your gilet and do a few laps round the astroturf Mrs Mitchell – I may not be able to catch a ball but at least I can see my own bellybutton.)
This is not intended to be an article railing against sport in general. I can see very well that organised sports have multitudinous benefits, even if I don’t personally enjoy the reaping of them. My future flatmate and one of my best friends in St Andrews is into sport in a big way – proof that I am not opposed to the sporting kind (though she frequently doubts our friendship based on the matter).
However, what I disagree with is the attitude games teachers – or P.E. teachers – have towards the athletically challenged. It’s not that I’m not trying, Mrs Man. When I mean to throw that ball right and instead it sails eight metres left, when I trip out of the sandpit upon exiting after a piteous one metre ‘long’ jump, when I throw the javelin and it strikes me on my own head – this is not intended as a personal attack on you.
This is not even a reflection of your bogus leadership skills. A friend once said to me, incredulously, ‘I just don’t understand how there are people who can’t hit a ball with a hockey stick’.
Trust me – we exist. It isn’t that we don’t try. We want to join your shiny league. We just can’t. So for now, just humour us. Let us put our knees out whilst running with poor form on treadmills. Rejoice with us on those rare occasions when we exhibit dexterity and coordination, and actually manage to catch something.