Not long before the new safety measures were implemented, I played frisbee with a friend in the park. As we walked home, I asked her if she remembered playing Ultimate Frisbee at school. She did. And then she asked me, “is this what PE was supposed to be like?”
Especially now that going outdoors is a luxury and sport has been put on hold, it made me reflect on the rather surprising fact that PE had actually been designed for our enjoyment.
Because, looking back, many of us dreaded it. Some of us are still haunted by the memories of being picked last by the tyrannous team captains. Some of us haunted by hearing the person with the ball yell “Somebody get open!” when you were right there, ready to catch, unobstructed (because were you even worth marking?)
Or maybe swimming was your bête noire. I remember shivering in line waiting for the teacher to thunder “Off you go!” and I’d “dive” in to what I thought was my death, envying the girl who couldn’t swim who was playing in the warm kids’ pool with every imaginable floating device. There is no pain quite like transitioning to the austere lanes of the adult pool in Year 2. I didn’t exactly excel at swimming at school. However, I took lessons separately, and I actually became quite good at it. It was something about the school environment that deterred me.
The same went with other sports. I hated netball; no matter how much I practised my pivots, nobody ever passed to me. The solution for the unlucky team that was burdened with me was to relegate me to defence. That’s right, the defensive position: ideal for chatting and general disengagement from the game, until… are they coming towards us?! Heaven forbid I should be left to stop the girl twice my height from doing a layup.
In Year 3, I went to a bowling-themed birthday party organised by our PE coach (how those parties were ever fashionable continues to baffle me). Everyone got a certificate for “Best Aim”, “Most Strikes”, etc. What did I get? You know it. “Best Effort.” I’ve accrued an impressive amount of “sportsmanship” (read: consolation) awards.
Going into secondary school was almost like a fresh start. Rounders and netball, which I had played previously, briefly gave me some enjoyment. Even if we’d left behind B- and C- teams (or the gorgeous outfit the A-team used to wear playing against other schools that I nearly got to wear), it didn’t take long for the other girls to stop passing to me.
So, I was back in defence. In Year 11, at the pinnacle of my defensive career, I was chilling as goalie in a game of handball. Our attackers were the finest athletes in our year. So, naturally, having also a penchant for the acrobatic, I decided to dangle from the goal post, hanging from my arms and swinging my legs wildly. I must have been a little too artistic, because both my feet got caught in the net behind me, and my sweaty hands were already starting to slip. The reserve team watching on the side began to take interest, while I began to wonder whether a broken nose would suit me. An interminable thirty seconds later and down I came, slamming into the artificial grass like I’d fallen from a skyscraper.
There, a brief summary of my illustrious PE exploits. Only now, particularly when so many are confined and deprived of exercise, I do see that it could have been fun. But that’s okay – we’re not all designed to distinguish ourselves on the field. I always liked sports, just not the ones at school. Now I can play as much, or as little, as I like – and nobody ever asks me who I was passing to, or whether I can see straight.