The Odd Boy

13 Feb

“Sport, Sport, Masculine sport, equips a young man for society.
Yes, sport turns out a jolly good sort. It’s an odd boy who doesn’t like sport.”
– Vivian Stanshall

A chap has to do what a chap has to do. LSE Sports Day, c1920s. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/

Along with Michael Gove’s recently proposed expansion of the school day to a petrifying 10 hours, comes the promise of more PE in order to free up teacher’s timetables. My own memories of physical education cause me to shudder in sympathy for the poor blighters that will be compelled to adhere to this shocking schedule.

As a rule, we ought to encourage our increasingly illiterate, digitally-oriented, desk-bound children to switch off their tablets and smart phones, and actually physically interact with their fellow peers and to, well, run around a bit. But the grim reality is that PE and sports are not for everyone.

PE utilises team sports and physical prowess as a way of asserting masculine stereotypes, and reinforcing estrangement. You surely recall the bench of slightly awkward teenagers during your own lessons, who went to great pains each week to make up excuses so as not to join in, or who simply forgot their kit entirely so they couldn’t be forced into taking part.

Team exercises just allowed the teasing and taunting to continue, with us weedy kids coming off the worse. Already suffering from body confidence issues we dreaded the days when our side would don the ‘skins’ and loose our vests. This practice also led to my first sighting of adolescent breasts when a particularly well-endowed chap bounced around the sports hall. Lady Boys of Belfast indeed.

As an 11 year old, fresh into big school, I was forced onto a rugby pitch two afternoons a week, in the cold winter of 1992. After being beaten repeatedly by boisterous boys, in rain, sleet and snow, I traipsed back to get changed. An unfounded comment by a peer accusing me of willy-watching in the shared showers ensured I avoided these wherever possible in future, preferring to scrub off the sweat when I got home.

The cold agonising pain felt in the locker room as I tried to force my numb fingers into submission, weeping while they refused to budge, fumbling with shirt buttons, was a punishment on a par with smacking.

Even other sporting endeavours left me hurt, humiliated or harangued.

Last man standing when teams were being picked. Left temporarily unconscious when thwacked in the eye with a hockey stick wielded like a golf club. Cricket resulted in a large lump on my skull when my head replaced the stumps. Judo brought bruises, and yet more homoerotic encounters (bawdy borders!). It wouldn’t be until learning archery in the 6th form that I finally found peace (and a way to defend myself).

Schools don’t have the staffing to expand the variety of sports on offer either, meaning many of us can’t engage in the physical activities that actually suit our idiom. Perhaps if my first semester hadn’t saw me cast onto the rugby pitch without choice I may have warmed to my physical well-being.

Adolescents like me have enough to cope with (hormones, homework, peer pressure), without being pushed, mocked and exerted.

* I’ve had this blog title (The Odd Boy) sitting here since May 2010, unused! The post above is a slightly modified version of a sports editorial I wrote for the Broadcast Journalism course I am currently studying for. 

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