David Cameron wants to humiliate children
A cold, windswept astroturf. Rain falls not heavily, but persistently, soaking to the skin all who brave it. This is the setting for the quintessential experience of my school sports career. I take a deep breath, and bellow across the field:
“I hate this game, sir! I really hate it! And it’s cold and wet and I’m miserable!”
This was in response to the quite reasonable request of my poor PE teacher that I actually engage in the game of football happening around me instead of wandering disdainfully up and down the pitch. Clearly by the time I was 15 I had not developed a deep-seated love of competitive sport. Had I grown up with the Olympic legacy, as envisioned by David Cameron, would this have been different? If anything, I think my attitude would have been even worse.
Cameron is going to make competitive sports compulsory for all primary age school children. He is very clear that he means traditional sports like football and hockey, and not “things like Indian dance or whatever.” Boris Johnson has gone further, saying that two hours of compulsory sport a day would give the nation’s children some backbone. Sport is important not because it keeps you fit and healthy, but because it fosters the competitive spirit and stamps out an “‘all must have prizes’ culture”. The Tories love neoliberal values more than a hockey stick loves a clumsy child’s face – exercise is apparently only valuable when it teaches you how to climb to the top by trampling on the proverbial pile of bodies. Or a real one, depending how violent your game of basketball gets.
I don’t think sport is bad, and I don’t think competitiveness is bad, as anyone who has played Scrabble with me will testify. I think children should be introduced to a wide range of sports, and other non-competitive forms of physical exercise. That way, they are more likely to find something they like and will do outside school. Narrowing the PE curriculum this way – getting rid of Indian dance or whatever – will only make kids who aren’t good at sports hate doing exercise even more.
How many people dreaded PE lessons at school? If you are not good at sport, it can produce some of the most humiliating moments of your life. Kids are judgemental and cruel, we all know that. If you can’t kick a ball – or worse, if your inability to kick a ball snatches glory from the grasp of the sporty ones on your team – then you are ridiculed, and shouted at, and made to feel utterly inadequate.
This is not the way it has to be. Steve Redgrave has a different vision for changing the culture of sports in schools. You don’t win five gold medals without valuing competition, but he doesn’t think Cameron is right to promote it above everything else. Not everyone can win, and if people are made to feel bad about not winning then they’ll feel bad about sport in general. As he puts it:
“It concerns me, too, that by over-stressing the competitive side, we might be scaring off people who struggle with coordinated skills… their abilities still need to be maximised.”
Spot the difference between him and Cameron? Redgrave thinks sport is fun, and wants as many people as possible to think sport is fun and benefit from it. Cameron thinks that by making it all about the winning and not the taking part, more kids will want to take part in sport. Hm.
When we were allowed to choose what we did in PE lessons, I realised that the main reason I hated sport wasn’t because I was bad at it – it was because I was embarrassed by being bad at it. I chose options which were either entirely non-competitive, like going to the gym, or sports I could do just with my friends, like badminton. To my surprise, I was both having fun and doing exercise instead of sullenly standing around for an hour. Under Cameron’s plans, that would never have happened.
Any thoughts? Is Cameron wrong on sport or am I just bitter about not being able to throw and catch?
Edit: So I’ve been Freshly Pressed which is fantastic! Thank you to everyone who’s come by to have a look, and thanks for all the interesting comments – that’s what blogging’s all about. Just to clarify a point which seems to be a bit unclear in the post: I don’t think we should get rid of competitive sport, just that it should be taught alongside other things, which Cameron doesn’t want to happen.