Why I hate sports

I’m just going to come right out and say it. I hate all sports. Even the ones I sometimes like. Now this is, of course, downright unAustralian of me so I’m going to try to defend my position.

First of all, you need to know that I am not opposed to physical activity. I’m a relatively fit and healthy individual. My cholesterol is freakishly low, as is my blood pressure. I go for walks pretty regularly and take the stairs instead of the lift most of the time. So this isn’t about me feeling all threatened by people with hard bodies (I tend to think women look better with soft bodies anyway).

What I hate most of all is the brittle rhetoric that surrounds almost all sporting endeavour. The bullshit about “teamwork” and “sportsmanship” and “giving it your best”. Everybody knows that sport is all about winning. Even when they say, “it’s not about winning” it’s about winning. The forum I in which I resent this rhetoric the most is children’s sports.

Imagine, if you will, an eight-year-old who reads poorly. Nothing stupid about her: just a combination of sluggish genetics and indifferent parents and she’s behind the rest of the class. Now, let’s give her a book and make her read in front of the whole school community. “Come on,” they’ll say, “give it a go. It’s not about being the best.” Her vision tunnels, her ears start to ring, she struggles through aware everyone is looking at her. How do you think she’d feel? I tend to think her self-esteem would be crushed and she’d probably develop hard feelings towards reading for life.

So why the hell do we make children who aren’t naturally good at sport race their classmates in front of huge audiences? “It’s not whether you win or lose,” they say. But it is. Because the kid who comes last, she doesn’t get a trophy on parade, she sits in the great silent stillness of the non-winner. Because she lost and everyone saw it. And if she’s the best reader in her class, there’s no trophy.

Luckily, though, there’s the wonderful consolation of a lifetime of books.

20 thoughts on “Why I hate sports

  1. I think the meanest of the mean is when they allow kids to pick their own teams – one person at a time. Someone is always chosen last and there’s no way it can’t feel awful. They even did it on MasterChef and grown adults who were left standing there waiting, waiting, waiting looked like they were going to cry.

    And while we’re at it …. the idea that in high school teenage girls and guys should be made to do swimming together is INSANE. Standing around in swimmers in front of boys when you’re fifteen is a total nightmare.

    I think school sport she be banned. Replace it with classes in The Hustle or The Electric Slide ….

  2. i had to learn the hustle and other line dances in p.e.

    i feel the same about publishing year 12 students’ OP or VCE scores in the paper.

    i played a few sports, but it was my choice. i hated being forced to try other sports. i could run and kick a ball. i couldn’t and still can’t throw, swing a rack or bat, shoot a basket. i chose my sports, not my parents. i am thankful that i was a ’70-’80s sportskid. i remember the games, not the parents shouting at the other players. my best friends were anything but sporty. maybe that was before labelling. running and football (assoc) were what i did, not what i was. the meets and games were never a public performance for bored suburbanites.

    most of my bad memories of high school involve reading aloud or reciting (poorly) memorised soliloquies. all those eyes. that didn’t give me a better understanding of hamlet’s angst, but i was more sympathetic to stephen king’s carrie.

  3. I was horrible, HORRIBLE, at sports. Even though I am from a basketball family (The Romig Clan have the freakishly tall gene from many years “living on the land” in Izoro….), my coordination is piss poor at best.

    And swimming carnivals? Yeah, don’t get me started. Try that in a private school – 99% of the ladies claimed “the time of the month”, even though some hadn’t even reached puberty yet….

    Why do we make kids do it? There is this idea that we need the competitive spirit to thrive. We need to know who is the best, who we need to beat, and who we have beaten. We need to be easily categorised for future reference.

    Just like books need to be “easily categorised” too ….

  4. AMEN!

    I *loathe* sport in all its forms, and cerebral palsy was the perfect excuse to avoid enforced playground participation therein. It also got me out of other inconvenient things like school dances or excursions I couldn’t be bothered with :).

    Contrary to what several people have said to me over the years, I don’t hate sport because I can’t play. I hate it because it’s boring and pointless. Exercise may be healthy, but glorified thuggery all in the name of winning is not. Let’s hear it for those of us who delighted in wagging PE “lessons” to hide away in the library and broaden our minds instead of our biceps.

    For the record, there’s nothing I like more than a solitary, early morning stroll to get the ol’ brain going. Swimming is great too, but I’ll never understand why some consider sport a religion or treat its players like gods.

  5. Okay, let me plead the case for lifelong sport lovers / players who aren’t ‘bulllshitters’ or ‘glorified thugs’ or the ‘meanest of the mean’… 😉

    First let me declare my bias: I was a good athlete as a kid and a PE teacher as an adult (I was also a writer throughout). Anyone who’s read my novel ‘Most Valuable Potential’ – replete with teamwork, sportsmanship and giving it your best – will have a pretty good gauge on how I feel about sport. To me, sport can and does manage to encapsulate some of the very best qualities of human endeavour. I won’t clog the blog with a sampling of the the tens of millions of examples – most unseen – that could be offered as evidence. I will, however, post one that is as extraordinary as it is well known. And one, I argue, that could not have happened without the agency of sport:

    Kim, you make a salient point about school carnivals, and Bec, you are spot on regarding the ‘kids choosing their own teams’ travesty (when I was teaching at Milpera SHS, we abandoned the former and I NEVER permitted the latter to occur). However, I think these reflect more the weaknesses of schooling and of many teachers rather than sport itself. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking competition doesn’t extend to the academics in school. There is most certainly a trophy for your ‘best reader’ girl, Kim; KnM correctly identified it as the Year 12 OPs. Athletic kids don’t feel that ‘great silent stillness of the non-winner’ when those scores are published? They do. Plenty told me they do. Luckily, though, there’s the wonderful consolation of a lifetime of sport.

    In the end, I feel sport has a lot in common with literature. Both are magical at their best, destructive at their worst, and always compelling due to their inherent wonders and imperfections.

    • Yeah but, Darren, that youtube clip is only out there because he won. Because he beat the record. If he’d missed every shot, nobody would have made a news report of it. Because winning is what matters in sport, not trying, despite the rhetoric.

      • Kim, you’ve missed the point. Yes, it became a news report and a youtube clip because a wonderful story in its own right was crowned with a remarkable performance. But the performance is secondary. So too the associated fame. What matters most is that Jason got a standing ovation from a crowd of family, school peers and community when he first walked on to the court, before he’d laid a hand on the ball, before he wowed a world beyond the local high school arena. That initial, heartfelt and spontaneous expression of love and appreciation from the people who know Jason best had nothing to do with winning. It had everything to do with a transcendence made possible through sport.

    • Speaking from the typical high school experience of a bullied girl with Asperger’s syndrome, I was a typical ‘nerd/geek’ (whatever stupid stereotype.) I would agree with your point that the general attitude of the teachers and the school itself shape one’s experiences towards sport, but if you have bad dyspraxia and you are told by the teacher to run backwards for whatever unfathomable reason (and they know this) in front of all the girls in the school year and predictably, you fall backwards onto the floor? What happens? EVERYBODY Laughs at you! How embarrassing! I can shrug it off now, at 19, but when you’re 14, it’s quite upsetting and kind of puts you off any future exercise (at least in a sports hall.) Add that to the fact that most sporty males in my high school were all complete jerks and bullies (they regularly kicked footballs at me/ into my face, tripped me up in corridors.) One lad did it in plain sight of the head of year, all that happened was she gave him a vague caution using ineffectual honeyed words ‘that wasn’t very nice, Danny, was it?’

      Of course, all the sporty people were popular and well-liked by the gym teachers, which didn’t help. And, obviously, I NEVER got chosen for anything and when I got randomly assigned to a group they didn’t want me there. I was an annoying tag-along to be berated. All very well being a straight A student in high school, but Chemistry and electronics doesn’t carry the same social/ sex appeal in this society a being good at football or whatever does.

      Anyway, enough rant, just wanted to throw in my two pieces.

  6. YES! P.E. teachers are the spawn of the devil, I’m sure of it. There’s such a double standard – we accept that there are people who aren’t as good at certain academic tasks (perhaps they even have medical reasons for that – your hypothetical child who isn’t good at reading could be dyslexic, say), but the whistle-bearing demons are determined to believe that any apparently able-bodied child who just can’t master sport isn’t trying hard enough.

  7. My sentiments exactly. Primary schools are like big aquatic shark feeding zones – one hint of weakness or lack of ability on the sports field and the blood sport of bullying begins.

    I despise and loathe all sport, but I despise and loathe and DETEST primary school sport and the parents who take it so seriously.

    My two were/are useless at sport. So what? Yeah, so what…the just participate is bullshit, it means WIN for us or go down behind the bikeshed and have the crap beaten out of you or be told that people hate you because you are no good at sport. When my daughter was told this on MSN I laughed with incredulity – ‘Welcome to Australia, honey’ and you just tell ’em right back that you hate them because they are no good at philosophy, or music, or painting.

    My oldest has just started law school, and all the sporty ones are drifting around not knowing what to do with themselves. There’s no comfort for me in knowing that but I wish the public primary schools would ease up on the sports fascism.

    rant over.

  8. This is where I tell you that I LOVED playing netball in primary school. Loved it. And a few years ago my girlfriends and I formed an adults team called “The Sharons’ (after Magda’s character on K&K) and we were truly bad but had a ball playing at the Indoor Sports Centre once a week. We were regularly slaughtered but once in a while we won a game when we came up against another group of misfits.

    Anyway, I think Darren is right. I think sport isn’t the problem. It’s the people who run/organise/watch sports that are the problem.

    There is something to be said for team sports when you are in it to have fun and do your best and work together — that was the philosophy of my netball teams (both as a kid and as an adult).

    Interestingly once i got to high school I couldn’t get in to any sporting teams === because suddenly it was about winning and having state champions in the teams so that the school won everything (I went to a private school that was somewhat obsessed with sport).

    And that attitude deprived me – a regular kid – of participating.

    Plus, to play devil’s advocate for a second, are we becoming too too too soft? What I mean is, is it so bad if our child loses the running race? Okay, it’s sad and awful for that child but isn’t this where we say, “You know what? You can’t be great at everything. Running isn’t your thing. But you are fabulous at art or singing or dreaming up stories”.

    Is this “I don’t want my child to experience losing” attitude doing our kids a big disservice? If you have a family who love you and good friends then you will shrug off your sadness from losing the running race and you’ll bounce back.

    Just one thought! What do people think? Am I being ridiculous? I don’t have a primary school aged child so perhaps when I do I will feel waaaay different!

  9. I think that one of the issues here is that when you are even a little bit sporty, you simply can’t imagine that there are people who wouldn’t enjoy it even a little, or be able to do it even a little. It’s like being musical and being utterly stunned that some people can’t hear they’re singing waaaay of tune. I am not just not sporty, I am some kind of black hole of sporting ability. I am sport’s anti-matter. If somebody attempts to rope me into a “fun” activity that is sporty, it makes me nothing but miserable, tense, resentful, and cranky. It makes me into a block of obsidian.

    Bec’s got a great point about building resilience, of course, but on that same continuum as “building resilience” is “crushing self-esteem”, and everyone has to decide for their child where that tipping point is. My kids will always have to go to PE, but I’m pulling them out of carnival days to take them bushwalking. Now there’s a nice, non-competitive way to have fun and get fit.

  10. What I always hated the most about sport days with my school was how if you skipped out or didn’t wear your uniform or didn’t participate, it meant that YOU were letting down your relegated team or sport house. And believe me they made you feel the shame. The teachers and the house captains would give you a hard time. Like this kid who hates sport, has always hated sport and just wants to stay in the library and read, is letting down the ENTIRE house by not wearing her uniform or participating in any events. And of course you’re not allowed to leave and do study or anything, because then you wouldn’t be able to SUPPORT this team of yours that now hate you because YOU let them down.

    I remember my private school (same one as Bec Sparrow, I believe) had a billion different houses, because there were so many students, which were allocated to students at random. You’re just told which house you’re in and then you forget it; it doesn’t shape your group of friends and it doesn’t have any impact on any other area of your school life. But for swimming and athletic carnivals you’re supposed to show up wearing your house shirt (they made you buy /another/ piece of ridiculous uniform, on top of P.E. uniform, swimming uniform, summer uniform, winter uniform, music uniform blah blah blah) to get one point in support of your house. Spend $40 and get one point of support for two events in the year. Gah.

    I only wore my normal white P.E. shirt to those events, unless I conveniently “forgot” and wore my normal uniform. Mainly because that way at least I could mingle and go sit with my friends who were all scattered and in different houses, pretending I was part of them too (I got talked to by several different teachers about my lack of uniform because of that, fun times).

    I just don’t understand why they thought I, or anyone, would have any loyalty or show any support to the other students who were in my/their house team as well. It was totally random and I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t even /like/ sport so there was no reason at all for me to participate.

    The one and only event I ever participated in was in grade 7, called the Lap-A-Thon. This particularly cruel event basically involved the students running around an oval with a rope, so that all the students of one team would hold onto the rope and run together (there were about six students per team). I cannot imagine how STUPID one could be to invent this. Now not only do you come last because you hate running and can’t keep up, but because you’re all attached to the rope and not allowed to let go, you make everyone else come last too! Of course I’m on the team with five other athletic girls who want to win win win! Of course I can’t keep up and after two laps I break away and make an exhausted trek to the bathroom were I can just cry and cry and cry. Of course when I come back I’m told that wasn’t allowed, and did I want to get my team disqualified while they’re all standing there glaring at me? Of course, despite this happening so many years ago, I can still feel the shame and self-loathing of that afternoon.

    I simply hate school-organised sporting events. Each and every last one of them.

  11. I was not very good at sport. In high school I constantly wagged P.E. My friend and I would get caught up in talking about the latest chapter in the books we were reading while the hockey team played on.
    To be honest, I was totally oblivious to what the other students were thinking about me (whether they wanted to beat me up behind the toilets or merely sneer) both in primary and high school.
    So, my advice as a parent (because, out of 3 daughters I only had one who enjoyed sport – and now I have a granddaughter who is obsessed with sport and VERY good at it) is – make sure you’re not drawing this negative attention on yourself, or magnifying the problem. These children may be as oblivious to ‘the need to win’ as I was.

  12. Life isnt always about being first at sport or reading, or being popular.

    This problem your discussing is not caused by sport or school or the media, or sports lovers, or the teachers.. It’s about jealousy and our own self importance induced by our upbringing.

    Do we feel sad that we don’t even know where to start looking for a cancer cure? You and I are last in the race of brilliant scientists that can do it. Perhaps we should ban science because we are not as good as them? We happily accept that perhaps we are not smart enough in this field. Why shouldn’t we accept that we are not the fastest runner, or reader?

    Enjoy the race, enjoy the book. Perhaps steer clear of becoming part of the rat race and self importance!

    • Matt, it’s not jealousy that forces young kids to participate in athletic events in front of all their peers and teachers. It’s not self-importance when that kid feels ashamed or miserable because they lost the race in front of their friends. You’re comparing apples to oranges.

      I don’t feel sad that I’m not good at science, because I was never /forced to compete/ in curing cancer in front of an audience. I’m sure I would have a very different opinion if I was told that I had to do all my Biology homework in front of the class, instead of being able to struggle with it in private. However, science – to many people at least – isn’t a competition, unlike these sporting events.

      What most people here seem to have a problem with (myself included) is that an activity which should be about having fun, staying healthy and getting fit, is turned into a /competition/ about who is the best. It’s the competitive nature of these school sporting events that does damage to self-esteem. For kids who aren’t particularly good at sports, these athletic/swimming carnivals put their weaknesses on display to all their peers, which, personally, can deal a great blow to that kid’s feeling of self-worth.

      It’s not about the disappointment of not winning and not coming first, it’s the disappointment of losing while everyone watches.

  13. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Therein lies the problem — the public humiliation factor that is built-in to PE. And while being called on in English class or Science class is also humiliating (if you suck at that subject) — PE is about so much more. It has all those body-image, fat/skinny, muscly/lean issues wrapped up in it all while you’re wearing (usually) a PE uniform that is not so flattering.

  14. I have a heart condition and I used to hate sports day and PE for this reason. For me, it was the equivalent of putting a child with dyslexia in a spelling bee. Fortunately I was a smart kid as far as the rest of schooling went.

  15. clearly this convesation is well and trully over, but i cant help to comment on just how correct you all are. For the most part. I was appalling (and still am) at sport and regually teased when, after being forced to participate i managed to kick the ball in the wrong goal or miss when everyone depended on me. These memories are the most traumatic of my schooling history. Kids can be so cruel. I understand that exercise is healthy, but its not healthy for the self esteem of a deveoping child to be watched and ridiculed

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