The PE rethink


In an interview with the BBC the other day Victoria Pendleton confessed her belief that the lack of participation in sport by girls was linked to the archaic way PE and Games are taught in schools.  In the words of Pendles herself:”The way sport is done at school is the stuff of nightmares for girls.”

I used to love PE in school despite the fact most of the teachers were following  a lesson plan first etched onto a slab of rock at the dawn of time. Want us to play hockey in the freezing cold mud with only our shorts and tissue paper thin rugby shirts to keep us warm? Sure! Want us to run the cross country route with the added fun of going through the thigh deep vast puddle of river flood water that stretched half our school playing field after a particularly rainy session? Of course. Until my early teens I lived for those few hours out the classroom and couldn’t comprehend why some of my friends would do everything in their power to get out of lessons.

But slowly, I became one of them.  I suddenly began to notice that a communal shower was actually mortifying, that the changing rooms were nothing more than a petri-dish for every foot infection medically documented to date and that the Arctic was taken as the guide for room temperature.  Playing outside in winter suddenly became less fun when the only trousers permitted as part of the uniform at the time were fat black jogging bottoms that were so unflattering it didn’t matter how warm they kept you – they could have contained the glowing embers of Hades Halls within them, no self conscious teenage girl was going to put them anywhere near her. So shorts it was.  Going into a double chemistry lesson was also hard enough as it was without the added stress of manic hair modeling itself very much on the windswept look and smelling like you’d just been running around on a field for two hours previously (which I had, but didn’t want to use the scummy showers) – no amount of Impulse  body spray could cover that.  So I began to avoid taking part, hiding in the gym area pretending to use the equipment, ‘forgetting’ my kit, or generally not trying very hard when out on the field.
Admittedly there were other things going on at that point (such as being an angst filled teenager etc) so the decline in enthusiasm towards PE can’t be blamed solely on the facilities and lessons, however they did play a big part.  However, if someone  like me who LIVED for PE lessons could be so easily turned away from them, what about all those other girls who don’t particularly like the idea of PE from the start?  All my classmates who seemed to have continuous period pains very conveniently on a Wednesday afternoon week in and week out?

Campaigns such as This Girl Can and the work of organisations such as the Youth Sport Trust (who’s event Pendles was speaking at) are finally making schools look at the way PE is being sold to girls and what can be done to make it more appealing. This is not just through the kit being worn and the facilities open to girls (seriously – shower curtains and more time), but by offering a range of sport activities also.

As an initial introduction to sport, PE classes can set out a woman’s activity levels for life so it’s great that work is starting to be done now. However, what about all those who endured PE classes up until that point?  Those brought up in the era of the gym knickers (argh!), musty crash mats (where thousands of bodies had crashed before them) or those made to run round their flooded school field like lunatics in the height of winter?  These are the ones having babies now and bringing up their own daughters, potentially adding to a cycle of negativity surrounding women doing sport that is still so hard to break.


Image from (thanks!)


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