Guest Post — Hating Gym: Guest Blogging Edition

Closetpuritan is a self-described nerd and skeptic who writes about fat at http://closetpuritan.wordpress.com/. She likes to involve her dog when running or hiking, and not involve her dog when swimming or doing yoga. She still doesn’t play team sports.

Gym class is frequently touted as a way to lower children’s BMIs. There are many reasons to be skeptical about this*, but I have one reason in particular: my own experience. Gym class for me neither encouraged me to be active during the class itself, nor outside of class. I am fairly active as an adult in spite of, not because of, my gym class experience.

What I mostly remember doing in gym class is standing around. When I was really young, maybe kindergarten or first grade, sometimes they let us scoot around the gym on little scooters or play with hula hoops or things like that. When I was older, sometimes they’d have us run a mile, and there was a weightlifting and aerobics unit, and there was even one brief unit where we did cross country skiing. But mostly we played team sports, and for me that meant standing around.

I wasn’t standing around exclusively. Once in a while I would move to Do Something with a ball. More frequently I would move out of my teammates’ way. I was the stereotypical last kid picked in gym class. (Well, except for the fact that these days that stereotypical kid is probably fat; up until middle school I was thin enough to have a flat stomach.) Perhaps not coincidentally, one of my favorite sports games was badminton; I thought at the time it was because I didn’t suck quite so badly at badminton, but it might be partly because I could actually participate.

About running a mile once in a while: The first time I did it I was in 7th or 8th grade. After countless gym classes full of Standing Around, they just announced, “OK, we’re running a mile today.” I wasn’t able to run the whole mile; I was just about last, along with one of my friends. (I have reason to believe that in addition to not having any practice, I’m just not naturally very good at running. It also would have helped if I’d had some idea of how to pace myself.) We might have done the mile run one more time before summer, but that was it for the year. It was the same for the couple times that we ran a mile in high school. No preparation, just one or two times running a mile in isolation. It could have been worse: our grades were participation-based, not time-based.

But it could have been a lot better. What if they had had us run a mile twice a week over the course of a couple months? Then maybe we could have had the pride of seeing our times improve, instead of just a ranking showing how badly we’d done. What if they had given us some feedback besides our times, such as making pacing or form suggestions?

My gym experience left me feeling like I was just not good at physical activity. As an adult, I’ve come to discover that it’s a bit more nuanced than that. I’m not good at vigorous endurance exercise. (Moderate endurance exercise seems to come more naturally to me; for example, I had no problem hiking up Mt. Elmore.) I’m also not good at anything that requires bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: I’m not good at hitting a ball or other object that’s flying through the air, predicting its motion, remembering sequences of movement, or figuring out how to imitate new poses and positions–the few times that yoga is frustrating for me, it’s usually because of an overload of new positions that I’m having trouble figuring out–or just one that’s particularly difficult. But for most of the things I like to do, I don’t need to be good at any of those things. Now that I’m done with gym class (and homework–I “only” have a full-time job now), I’m free to pursue the things that I like to do and have become a lot more active. I’m even finding the joy in running in the knowledge that I’m bad at it, being happy at how much better I can run than in high school while not constantly being reminded of how much worse I am at it than everyone else.

*Scientific studies have had mixed results: see here, here, and here, for example.

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This post is part of a Back to School Guest Blogging series. If you’d like to guest blog here, please email Tori at anytimeyoga@gmail.com.

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I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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10 comments on “Guest Post — Hating Gym: Guest Blogging Edition
  1. blogromp says:

    This is a great post. There were certain classes I had to take growing up that didn’t feel like school, because they weren’t about learning. Gym tops the list. There was no instruction, no program designed to build students up to being able to do increasingly more challenging tasks. It was cruel.

  2. valarltd says:

    Here from Feministe
    I’m right there with you. I was tall and deeply uncoordinated. Like physical therapy needed level, because of a genetic neurological disorder.

    I learned to dance in music class and I was good at it. I managed to finish my gym credit with ballroom dancing. I wish that was an option for more people.

    It’s great you’ve found things you like. I think if gym class actually TAUGHT anything, it would be a lot more fun. (Our scores were performance based and I very nearly failed several times.)

  3. soniajoseph says:

    Hey, this post really spoke to me. I have a life-long fear of team sports thanks to my childhood experience with them. I prefer solitary activities like running, swimming or dancing solo. I am always terrified of being the team member who gets in everyone’s way and poolside volleyball parties, tennis etc. terrify me. I am glad to know other people have had similiar experiences and that I am not alone. I was also hoping to see someone expand on the unique brand of bullying that often accompanies team sports. Maybe next time. :)

    • I was mostly ignored rather than bullied when it came to team sports. I feel lucky to have been mostly invisible rather than a target.

      • soniajoseph says:

        True, that. Somehow, I always felt bullying in team sports was different from the regular bullying. Perfectly nice people could turn incredibly mean when they felt someone was preventing them from winning. Very heat of the moment sort of thing. I preferred to just stay out of it, if I could avoid it.
        I agree with you about technique though. I agree some of it cannot be taught but most of us can be mediocre players at least if taught well. And just being mediocre can give you a tremendous boost in confidence and increase your motivation to stay fit. I wish I knew all of this way back when.

  4. Tori says:

    Interestingly, badminton was the unit in middle school gym that I liked, too. And field hockey in high school.

    Looking back on it, I suspect that at least part of this had to do with the fact that these sports were basically new to all the students — and the teachers taught them in ways that accounted for this.

    So it might just be, like, I liked these units because they were the ones where the gym teachers were teaching…

    • Yeah, that was another thing that I didn’t get to in my post that multiple commenters have brought up. Not just running could have benefited from instruction/coaching, but all the team sports. It seemed like everyone but me had played team sports before. Some stuff–like being worse at predicting where the ball would be next–wasn’t really teachable, but there was probably other stuff that was. I don’t know what, because I never learned it and no longer have any reason to learn it, because NO ONE CAN MAKE ME PLAY SOCCER EVER AGAIN! ;)

  5. [...] I have a guest blog post over at Anytime Yoga. You can check it out here. [...]

  6. […] kids play team sports in PE is neither healthy nor educational) Bears a certain resemblance to my PE experiences. I wasn’t quite as interested as the author in being successful in gym class, at least in my […]

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