Why I hated PE at school

So on my runs I have been slowly catching up on marathon talk episodes. I used to always run listening to either music or podcasts, but I have gradually transitioned and now most of my runs are without anything- parkruns, sweatshop and OH club runs are all earphone-less, and so of course are races. So I had a huge backlog (combined with pretty much no running in December) and so am in December at the moment. I was very surprised on my long run last weekend to hear an interview with a PE teacher from the secondary school I went to (although he is younger than me so didn’t teach me). It was a really good show (here) also including a chat with a guy from Strava.

But it got me thinking. Why did I hate PE so much? I really enjoyed school, I was well behaved, did my homework without any pressure from my parents. I always took part in PE (I did not have the cheek to pretend to have cramps to get out of it!), and tried my hardest. I liked being active- as a family we would walk or go on bike rides, on holidays we would swim, hire kayaks or play tennis. When I was younger I had gymnastic lessons, joined the country dancing club ( we had very fetching bright orange skirts), and even a modern dance club – sort of like aerobics with routines to music (like Blue Suede Shoes).

But, I dreaded PE. Why?

  • I was not gifted in any area of sport. I would try, but I could not catch very well, could not hit a ball (rounders I’m looking at you), could not run very fast or jump very high. I was always Goal Defence in netball which is ridiculous as the shooters often had nearly a foot on me! The only sport I liked was hockey because I didn’t have to worry about catching or striking.
  • It was mostly very cold. I remember one netball game where it started sleeting, and we had to try and catch the ball with frozen fingers- very painful. Plus, netball- what is the point? You hardly move, just stand about in the section of the court. Cold. Again, I liked hockey because I could actually run around a bit and warm up. In my middle school I loved it, but moving to secondary school there was a bit of competition to get onto the hockey team, and because I didn’t make that it seemed that I should not be bothered with in PE.
  • It was boring. Games like rounders seemed to involve a lot of waiting about-waiting for your turn to try and hit the ball, or waiting near a base in some vague attempt to try and look like you could catch it if it came near.
  • Swimming made my hair wet, and then I was cold for the rest of the day. Why we swam in the winter was a mystery to me.
  • I hated changing- we hardly had any time between lessons so it was always stressful. We had showers but no-one used them- the thing to do was to walk in, get wet feet and then make wet footprints on the changing room floor so that if the teachers came in they would think we had showered. Even after swimming we would not shower- we were told we had to, but when you have 5 minutes before your next lesson, and there are only a few showers anyway, is it possible? Plus your body is changing and it gets very uncomfortable to be at various stages of undress with friends and of course “the cool girls” who are all tall and thin and good at sports.
  • I was scared of two of the teachers. They used to shout if I couldn’t catch a ball- not very encouraging. (We had two nice PE teachers too, but it was a bit of a rotation I think).
  • The PE kit was horrible. Anyone remember those awful gym knickers? And I don’t think I found out about sports bras until my twenties.

Looking back it makes me a bit sad, because I think I was willing to try, but never found something I was good at, so never really had that drive to work at and improve. I was pretty happy when I got to the sixth form and didn’t have to do PE any more. I often had a little bike ride when I got home from school instead, so I was active in a way I was comfortable with. But I think that had I had the chance to do some other things, for example join a cross country club (but for fun- all the ones at school were just for the ones who competed) then I would have enjoyed it. I liked running around in a hockey game after all, and the mud didn’t bother me.

Now, I know that it was a while ago (about 20 years!) and I am sure things have changed a lot.

How were your PE lessons at school? What would you change about them if you could?

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14 thoughts on “Why I hated PE at school”

  1. I don’t really remember PE lessons (thank heavens) but I do remember swimming lessons in junior school. Growing up in South Africa they were SUCH a welcome respite from the heat during summer, I loved to swim. Then in high school I did nothing, not even swimming because I was made to do butterfly which I hated and always felt like I was drowning 🙁

    1. I am not surprised! I was made to do swimming lessons at lunchtime at my middle school because I didn’t have a 50m badge- I hated that too as it was at the local high school and it was scary worrying about big children coming in the changing room, and also by the time you got back to school there was only horrible food left for lunch, and of course wet hair for the day too.

  2. I loved PE lessons at primary school. My school was very small and I was on the hockey and netball team. I absolutely loved team sports and anything that involved tactics. Then we went to high school.
    I think the worst thing about PE at high school was that the ‘cool girls’ choose the teams each week. Names were called out one by one until I was one of the few remaining. Not because I was no good at the sports but because I wasn’t one of their cool friends. I’ve always had more guy friends than girls. I hate the drama and bitchiness that comes with several girls all being in the same place and PE lessons were the worst for it as we were separated completely from the boys.

    1. I liked it at primary school, but it was mainly games in the hall or on the field- not the same.
      Picking teams is just horrible.

  3. I used to skip swimming all the time, the idea of swimming in the winter and then having wet hair all day long was just hideous, I used to get my mum to write a note regularly! I played hockey for the school though and quite enjoyed that, until I got a whack in the face that put paid to me playing again.

  4. PE was never something I really got into either. Like you, I was willing to try at everything but I wasn’t deemed “good enough” at anything. So I sat on the subs bench for netball, going to every game hoping I’d be picked, for two years. After that, I gave up with after school clubs and wasn’t encouraged to join.. the PE teachers always had a great relationship with the pupils that did go after school and made the most effort with them.
    It’s such a shame because I was active – walking the dog, riding my horse, playing tennis and badminton with friends – yet it didn’t transfer to PE.

  5. I wasn’t a fan of P.E at school either- I had terrible asthma and I remember being made to do Cross Country in the winter, and watching everyone disappear into the distance as I huffed and puffed trying to keep up, and eventually just walked the rest! I did love Netball, and always played WD – but that was usually indoors! 🙂

    1. Oh dear that must have been awful for you. Our netball courts were outside – not good! They were tennis in the summer I think.

  6. I couldn’t stand PE. It wasn’t the sports; it was the other people. I am not a team player (loud and proud, never was and never will be) and all of the sports bar tennis and cross country were team-based. I was horribly unfit and always picked last…I was the worst at every single sport.

    The thing was, I tried so hard. I honestly put so much effort in I thought I was going to pass out sometimes, and I would never give up no matter how much I was mocked for being fat and out of shape. My body has always been naturally weak though: I remember trying to be active when I was very little and learning to ride a bike, and I barely had the physical strength to keep it upright, let alone turn the pedals round. I don’t know what was wrong with me!

    The changing room environment was my idea of a living Hell, and the PE teachers did nothing to help that. I hated netball (I agree: what IS the point of it!?) but I wished I could be amazing at everything else. I actually look forward to the running because I secretly hoped that every week it would suddenly be different and I would do well…never happened though. I spent my whole childhood and adolescence being frustrated with myself and my body, and not understanding why I couldn’t be like the tall, skinny, cool, athletic girls. I don’t think PE, at least in its current form, is helping the number of girls dropping out of sport at all…we must be a bit psychic because I mentioned it in my last post too 🙂

    1. I am not sure what the answer is- I think I would have happily played hockey for every lesson, with my friends, and then at least been active.

  7. Your PE experiences do sound rather horrific! 🙁
    I didn’t enjoy PE lessons per se as I found a lot of it was waiting around being shown how to do stuff, usually in the cold outside, and with big classes your turn at doing something was always quite few and far between. Our PE uniform was never that bad – just navy blue shorts and polo shirts thankfully. Though I disliked PE lessons I tended to join every sport club I possibly could – from hockey, cricket, basketball, gymnastics, cross country running (though I wish I’d persevered at this as at the time I found it too hard and gave up – I never realised I had to pace myself!). I loved getting involved in sports and really enjoyed playing in the teams.

    1. Shorts and a t-shirt sounds good- we had a skirt, t-shirt and those awful gym knickers and although usually you could keep you skirt on, for indoor things you weren’t always allowed them- not good!

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