Now over a week has passed since the vaguely shambolic Olympic closing ceremony (the clear highlight of which being featured as the subject of my previous post.) Without the ongoing day-to-day excitement of the Olympics to verbaciously detail and a good fortnight remaining until what promises to be a stellar Paralympic games, the broadsheets have progressed through a specially modified four stages of grief. Basking in the afterglow, anxiety about returning to normality, then lapsing into cynicism before slowly returning to our everyday routine of complaining about everything the government do.
That last step has been particularly involved in the discussion about Olympic legacy. It was decidedly inconvenient for both David Cameron and education secretary Michael Gove that the media had readymade anti-sport dirt on the government for directly after the Olympics. The “playing fields” controversy has therefore featured possibly more prominently in the news that it may have otherwise. However, I would say that it’s certainly one small negative feature amongst the “Olympic legacy” on sport. Yet again, such an event puts focus once again on the next generation, and the prominence once again falls to school sports.
I find this almost amusing, as I have with all discussion of school sport in terms on lasting effect on human wellbeing and contributing to the overall fitness of kids. It is true that there has been a great deal of success in increasing the hours spent doing sport in school in recent years, but the pervading dialogue that surrounds the discussion of it is painfully simplistic. It’s convenient for our politicians to view school sports in this way, despite the fact that none of them are stupid enough to genuinely believe is coming out of their mouths. The consensus is a step-by-step process that assumes that school sports are making a child more healthy and creating a positive attitude towards sport within the child, one that is likely to encourage participation in later life.
This is contrary to mine and what I safely assume to be swathes of other people’s experience of school physical education. Before venturing into detail, it is probably best to highlight that this does not incorporate primary school gym sessions. I can safely say that I enjoyed those years and remained a fairly active child throughout that time, a child that enjoyed running, cycling and a kickabout. This was until the tyranny of high school came into play. See, high school physical education was different. The first thing I noticed is that both teachers and physically gifted pupils took the pursuit entirely more seriously that I had been used to, thereby sapping any morsel of fun to be had clean out of the process. Sporty classmates became ferocious in their quest for victory, and quite obviously came to see those that may be considered mediocre sporting talents to be a downright hindrance to them, rendering their attitudes extremely abhorrent and childish. I guess this is something to be expected from teenagers, but i’d argue that those in charge were almost as bad.
What I believe the Olympic legacy could be, is an overhaul of teaching methods. I found it both amusing and sad to hear athletes such as Mo Farah laud their old PE teachers so heavily when so many people consider their’s to be amongst the least inspiring characters they’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. My overarching memory of physical education is that the dismissive attitudes were not restricted to the pupils. I am absolutely resolute in my belief that Physical Education teachers do far more harm than good when it comes to inspiring a dedication to sport in pupils that may not have developed that passion otherwise. Infact, one thing I do notice is that they are exceptional at motivating those with an existing drive and clear passion in a particular field of sport, and this is why people need not worry too greatly about Team GB’s future stars. However, their instense concentration on these students is mirrored by what I consider an ambivalence at best and contempt at worst for pupils that aren’t quite so gifted. It is for this reason that I remember an overwhelming number of those ever-so-valuable hours of physical activity involving a depressing amount of standing around doing very little that could be described as such. I believe also that this negative experience of sporting authority is arguably one of the primary factors that people choose not to continue with it once free of the constraints of compulsory physical education. Unpleasant experiences from school darkly colour people’s perceptions of sport. Why would one voluntarily put oneself under this critical gaze of my own volition?
However, the Olympics has changed me in one way. Namely, I no longer think negatively of all of those blessed with sporting talent. For years I have tarnished athletes as either repugnant or simply banal. I’ve long thought “Sports Personality of the Year” was an oxymoron. However, seeing the Olympians on television brought their humanity to the forefront of my mind. I’m hoping that another legacy is that tolerance is offered in the opposite direction also. Both regular participants in sport and those teaching it are amongst the guilty parties in something I find all too common. The lack of acceptance for novices and the physically untalented even within adult sport and leisure pursuits is rather upsetting and all too similar to the school playing field or gym hall. It’s something that us beginners notice and take to heart. It’s often what stops many of us from progressing beyond beginner status at all. I myself have recently taken up swimming, and I still can’t help but feel paranoia ebbing in under the critical gaze of the supervising instructors and more competent swimmers. It felt disheartening, despite the fact that my performance is entirely reasonable and perhaps even impressive for someone that has not swam for 10 years and has never attended formal lessons. It is for this reason that I have vowed to persevere. It’s an obvious observation but carrying on is the only way any of us without natural talent or pre-existing experience will ever improve.
So I implore that the legacy of the Olympics be just that. Whilst very little can be done about the intolerance of teenagers, those in authority have to take a stand and resolve for improvement. If the majority believe a sporting Britain is a better Britain, we have to allow everyone a chance. It’s about increased participation and not alienation. The display of some astounding Olympic prowess has inspired scores of people whose eyes previously glazed over at the mere mention of sport in a way none of us had previously thought possible. If the government can convince PE teachers to find a way to do the same, or even simply not to dash the hopes of these people before one can say “Fosbury Flop”, Britain gets the gold medal.