In the past few years, there have been various campaigns to get more women involved in sport, or to have more sport in schools. I'd like to start a campaign of my own for LESS sport in school – but more exercise.
My secondary school, like many girls’ schools in Dublin, basically offered two options for PE: hockey in winter or tennis in summer. I was totally useless at both so I spent most weeks either ‘forgetting’ my kit, or thinking up new ways to be ‘unwell’. However, when we were 16 we had Transition Year in which zaniness reigned and we did things like aerobics and trampolining. It was fantastic; we loved it. But then came fifth year (Year 12) and it was straight back to hockey-and-tennis. So I really did no exercise – bar running away from the ball – for the whole of my teenage years. Exercise was associated with cold, misery and feeling bored and really embarrassed.
But then, when I left school, something magic happened. I realized that I didn’t hate exercise; I just hated competitive sport. I took up yoga, and running, and started swimming more regularly and cycling everywhere. Now I’ve run three half marathons and I’ve done everything from Bikram yoga to ballet barre. And I’m not the only one. One of my fellow skulkers on the sidelines is now a triathlete; another is a dancer and keen open-air swimmer. In my latest book Love and Other Man-Made Disasters, the main character, seventeen-year-old Juno, is terrible at sport – but discovers an unexpected love of skiing. Not that all schools can offer skiing, but the principle is the same.
That’s why I wish there was a little less emphasis on ‘sports’ in schools and more on helping teenagers to enjoy exercise, by offering a real, all-round physical education. I understand that schools have to work within budgets but surely things like aerobics or dance or even yoga would be more cost-effective than sports, which require expensive equipment and extensive grounds? I also suspect these things would also appeal a lot more to teenage girls than the current regime which seems like a hangover from Victorian public school days.
I’m not for a minute arguing that we should chuck out all sports. I understand that it’s important to invest in future athletes, and provide resources for a new generation of Andy Murrays and Jessica Ennnises. But we also owe something to the kids who are never going to make it to the Olympics, but still deserve to have fun developing a healthy, happy, active body.
Nicola Doherty grew up in Dublin and now lives in London; she writes both contemporary and teen romance. You can follow her @nicoladoherty_ or at nicoladohertybooks.com. Her latest book Love and Other Man-Made Disasters is published by Orion. Order it from your local bookshop or buy it in paperback or kindle here.
Thank you so much Nicola for this interesting but potentially controversial view point.
What you think, should schools offer less sport? More variety? Scrap it altogether? We would love to hear your views.
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