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.
This post is part of a Back to School Guest Blogging series. If you’d like to guest blog here, please email Tori at firstname.lastname@example.org.