Love It or Hate It, Why We Can’t Keep Treating Gym Like a Throwaway Class

by Charlotte on January 13, 2014 · 42 comments



Who didn’t love the parachute??

“We’re not allowed to play ball tag anymore,” my oldest son announced sadly to me today as he climbed in the car after school. For the dirty-minded among us – I lived on frat row for three years in college after all – it’s not that ball tag (which would be rightly banned) but rather an innocent game of tag where you throw a large, rubber playground ball at the person to tag them “it” instead of touching them. My boys love it. But not anymore! Last month snowballs were banned. This month it’s tag. “The playground monitors say it’s too dangerous,” my son sighed.

“So what did you do instead?” I asked him.

“Traded Pokemon cards,” he answered.

Great. So instead of running around for their brief 20-minute recess, now they’re sitting and looking at cartoon characters on cards. (And yeah, I’m just as amazed as you are that Pokemon are still a thing – I remember them being cool when I was a kid!) But at least the kids still have gym class, right? Right??

“Sport in school is the worst thing you can possibly inflict on children, particularly girls who are going through puberty and are necessarily self-conscious, often in pain and often vulnerable. Rather than being promoted as life-enhancing, health-giving and a fun way of giving you a fantastic body, sport is turned by school, and the frankly pervy gym mistresses who police it with really loud whistles, into an assault course to be avoided at all costs.”

So says the ever-controversial (pervy gym mistresses? You went there? Really??) Liz Jones in the Daily Mail. (In an article criticizing a British sports star for being “too sinewy” with “breasts like slabs in a sea of testosterone”, no less.)

The thing is, for a long time I would have heartily agreed with her. Man I hated gym class.

Every society has its own coming-of-age challenge that adolescents of that culture must pass before being accepted as adults. Some African societies force feed adolescent girls to fatten them up for marriage. To progress to manhood in the Amazon’s Satere Mawé tribe you have to wear gloves filled with stinging ants - ants whose sting is 30 times more painful than a wasp’s – for 20 minutes. American children have Middle School.

If your experience was anything like mine, you just had an involuntary shiver go up your spine. During those three short years I got loogies hawked into my hair (bonus points for spatter on my big ol’ plastic ’80s glasses!), sloppy joes dumped in my ridiculously inefficient Esprit bag, and, in retrospect the most horrifying thing of all, a lecture on the birth control Norplant from my 12-year-old locker partner. But in the highlight reel of the horror movie that was my middle school, the scene that holds the most Carrie-like prominence is the day I not only threw up but also simultaneously peed myself in front of all my classmates in gym class.



Yep, this plus footballs. It’s me. 

It happened on the day of the dreaded Presidential Fitness Exam. Perhaps you remember it: sit-ups, push-ups, the sit-n-reach, the arm hang and the mile run. Each event had a certain number you had to meet to pass. Winners got an ugly little patch to sew on to something (I think – I never won so I wouldn’t know) and losers got a lifetime of bad self esteem. Well my particular gym teacher that year had an evil streak a mile wide (long?) and decided that the only way to pass his P.E. class was to pass the Presidential Fitness Exam. (Side note: I always wondered who is this president they kept referring to? While President Obama could probably pass with flying colors, I doubt Bush Sr. – the president during my middle school tenure – could even manage the second half of a sit up without assistance.) Anyhow, being the straight-A student I was, I was horrified at the thought of a stupid gym class ruining my precious 4.0 G.P.A. My downfall every year was the mile run.

Well that year, Senor Satan decided to help me keep my G.P.A. … by chasing me around the track throwing footballs at my head and screaming “MOVE IT HILTON!” while my classmates roared with laughter. Terror stricken and jelly legged, I not only passed the mile run but beat the boys’ time as well – only to ruin my moment of wind-sucking glory by vomiting right on the finish line. And then peeing my blue polyester gym shorts while trying to run off the field to hide. After that I did everything I could to avoid P.E. in school, something I was fairly successful at.

This bad early experience with gym class not only gave me the best “My Most Embarrassing Moment Story*” to tell at parties but it also had the unfortunate consequence of making me h-a-t-e running. And volleyball and soccer and basketball and football and pretty much every other team sport I was forced to play with the lone exception of archery. I kicked blue-polyester-butt in archery.

When I met my husband many post-traumatic years later, it took him months just to get me to play a little tennis with him. Despite enjoying dancing and gymnastics and hiking and rock climbing and many other sweaty pursuits I still thought I was a terrible athlete and moreover I hated anything that said “team sport.” This fallacy might have persisted had I not had a bunch of pregnancy weight and post-sexual-assault angst to work off. Thankfully I discovered fitness in my mid-twenties and it’s been a love affair ever since – something that one gym teacher came mighty close to ruining. (I’ve even discovered a love for team sports! The Gym Buddies taught me to play basketball, well calvinball really - and I loved every minute of it!)

Research says I’m not alone in my middle school reaction, saying that negative interactions with physical education teachers can cause a lifelong hatred of exercise. One woman in the study wrote, “I am a 51-year-old-woman whose childhood experiences with sports, particularly as handled in school, were so negative that even as I write this my hands are sweating and I feel on the verge of tears. I have never experienced the humiliation nor felt the antipathy toward any other aspect of life as I do toward sports.” I feel for her. Even 20 years later I still feel nauseated remembering the gym class that inspired a 100 angst-ridden diary entries.

Fortunately, the converse is also true. If a bad gym teacher or coach can inspire lifelong bad habits, a good teacher is even more powerful. Thankfully there are many P.E. teachers (like Turbo Jennie – her day job is a middle school health and physical ed teacher) who realize the importance of what they are doing and work long and hard to help the vulnerable kids in their care. These teachers do a lot of good and deserve more attention, respect and pay than we currently give them. Sure there’s the much ballyhooed obesity crisis to think about but I think P.E. is even more important for teaching kids how good it can feel to exercise, how fun movement can be and, at the risk of getting all after-school special up in here, serious life skills. And we do this by helping kids find an activity they love – something you can’t do by belittling, criticizing or humiliating them. We can no longer afford to treat physical education like a throwaway class nor can we keep treating gym teachers as a joke – their role is so influential and important to our kids’ well being.

We need good P.E. classes in schools and to do that we need more great P.E. teachers - anything less and the consequences are simply too severe. Oh and we also need tag back at recess.

What was your school gym experience like? Did you have a particular physical education teacher who really stood out to you, good or bad? Can anyone top my embarrassing middle school moment??

*This story was a great “most embarrassing moment story” for several years as a teen but I have since topped it with waaaay more embarrassing moments. Like the time I peed my pants all over the gym floor as a grown adult. I blame the Gym Buddies – they made me laugh too hard!

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Darwin January 14, 2014 at 12:33 am

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.” George Orwell.

I saw this in action growing up. I laughed out loud at the suggestion that sports made for kids believing in fair play and would keep them out of trouble.

On an otherwise lovely day in the fourth grade a guy came up and punched me…out of the blue…for no reason.

There was really no power to it. He did not know how to punch.

I smiled.

He cringed.

When he picked himself up off the floor…and backed away…he said: “If I was wearing my skates I would not have lost! I PLAY HOCKEY!”

“Of course you do.” I said. “I recognize the mentality.”

“What?” was his quick and witty reaction.

“Look it up.”

An American baseball manger by the name of Leo Durocher once said: “Show me a good loser in professional sports and I’ll show you an idiot. Show me a good sportsman and I’ll show you a player I’m looking to trade.”

Thus it continues into adulthood.

School sports for kids are supposed to be the antithesis of all of this.

Like when The Coach played Sid Cesar(sp) mostly patiently helped John Travolta find a sport he could feel good about in the movie GREASE.

I was running and weight lifting on my own by the time I got to high school. And I got a patch in public school for the fitness test there (although in Canada it wasn’t called the President’s Fitness Test and we didn’t have ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER promoting it.

But the only reason I got a patch was because a girl showed me how to do the arm hang-thing better.

She rocked.

We all helped each other back then and tried to make sure that no one felt bad.

Like we learned in recess.

By the time high school came around and students were pulled from a larger geographic area, the TEAM SPORTS people who played hockey and other things all their lives and brought that attitude with them, all of that consideration was gone.

I beat them all at track (12 minute run) and the weight lifting and wrestling…but I would not go out for any teams.

They sucked the fun out of it.


Joemama January 14, 2014 at 7:45 am

Ugh. All you have to do it look at a kid in my town and you can tell they’re “in Hockey”. It’s an arrogance of sorts. I’m not saying every hockey player is a jerk, of course, but the decent ones are few and far between in my town.
They are given almost holy status (akin to High School football players in the southern states), and I can’t figure out why, given the state of professional hockey these days.
I know a guy who scouts for NDSU on the weekends. He drives all over the upper Midwest looking for promising players. He said they start looking for kids at about 6 or 7 years old! I guess it’s no wonder they feel superior when they are courted by universities from the time they’re in first grade.


Darwin January 14, 2014 at 9:01 am

No doubt.

But…I think it must be inherent in the sport process…because there were no university scouts at my public school. but all of the “arrogance of sorts” was there. And as you so accurately observed, that kind of thing is not limited to hockey players.

Self-indulgent over-feeding of egos…having a sense of entitlement…all adds to the bully mindset.

Oh! I forgot that Charlotte asked for embarrassing stories!

Where to begin?

Most of my public school embarrassment centered around seventh grade for some reason. Perhaps it was a growth spurt.

- In high jump, they brought everything inside the gym with a huge padded bag to land in, and I missed what was previously an easy height for me.


Determined…I put everything I had into it (energy I usually held in reserve for the higher heights) and I went over the bar…

…over the bag…

…and landed on my head on the floor.

Other kids came in to watch everything going on JUST at that moment.

- Playing basketball, someone left a folded ping-pong table at the side of the gym. As I was running down the court, someone said…”Watch out for that table!.”

Me: “Okay!”


- Football. WE were SO close to the goal line…last play…public school…so it was “flag” football…no pads…no helmet.

I exploded out of the scrimmage, past the opposing players and looked up just as my head connected with a goal post.

My head stayed where it was…my feet and legs flung out in front of me…I got some decent mid-air hang time…then fell splat on my back.

- As an adult in a one day church basketball tournament, I turned my ankle in the first fives minutes of the first game.

I did not mention this to anyone and I played for hours. The whole day.

Stupid. I know.

My team won. But it was not my competitive nature that kept me there. I did not really care of we won or lost.

I just wanted to have fun playing.

As the adrenalin subsided…the pain began in earnest…then increased…then increased some more…then it got ridiculous…then increased twofold…then increased to what I thought was REALLY unreasonable for such a small joint…

Then it got bad.

I could not even hop on my good leg without sending searing pain ripping through my other ankle.

I drove downtown to the store where my girlfriend (at the time) was working as I was supposed to pick her up.

I was sweating buckets and exhausted from the pain trying to get to the door…so I collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk.

A homeless bag-lady came over because she felt sorry for me…

…me the stupid person.


Cora January 14, 2014 at 12:45 am

Though my experience with gym class wasn’t as bad, what got the best of me was the weird ‘diversity’ we had in exercise. We had to run for a grade, but never really ran during PE, only during the grading day. We threw javelins for a grade, once a year, we climbed a rope for a grade once a year, etc.
So that added to the feeling of being a failure at gym, because we never really practiced any of the things we had to do.

Only after moving away and living on my own, I discovered other ways of exercising, and that consistent training can help you get better at something. I would have loved to learn that in school. I strongly believe that learning to dig deep to complete a work out is profitable for other things in life: it gives you perspective on hard work, stamina, etc. Seems like something to teach kids….


EmmaS January 14, 2014 at 2:07 am

I hated PE, although I was rather athletic and competed in show-jumping and played on the basketball team, etc. But PE was awful, especially in middle school. And it was not until I got out of school, and could start doing my own thing, I got into fitness.

Then my son comes along – and exactly the same thing happens. He hates PE, he hates sports – until one day, when he starts exercising on his own. First a little bit of running, then a lot. Then he gets hooked. Unfortunately too hooked, as we know, since he is now being treated for ED, mainly for compulsive exercising.

Could PE have helped? I do not know. If he had enjoyed it more, perhaps he would have had a more balanced approach to fitness. Or perhaps obsession is just in his genes.


Naomi/Dragonmamma January 14, 2014 at 6:24 am

I got nuthin’ to match your gym story, although it did take years to recover from always being the last person picked for the team (of any sport).


Laurel January 14, 2014 at 6:31 am

I dreaded PE even though I was fairly athletic and participated in team sports. The thought of putting myself in a room with 50 other well endowed girls and being forced to change into PE clothes and an hour later change again and return to class sweaty and smelly never appealed to me (more like appalled me). I was very self conscious of my lack of curves. At that time I was actually mocked for thinness and poor (or little to no) diet…what a change now 20 years later.

I do feel disappointment that during the most vulnerable times of our lives we are forced to meet an exercise standard for a broad range of sports and are likely inflicted with the pain of failure to one or many of them. Thus giving the association of exercise with embarrassment and defeat.

With that said, I think my greatest disappointment with this subject is when I see exercise used as a punishment for children. Namely having to run laps at recess because they failed to turn in homework, or they were talking during quiet time in class. Please don’t make a child associate running with punishment. Make them write an essay, read aloud in class or something that they already hate to do.


Susan January 14, 2014 at 6:56 am

SHEER AND UTTER TORTURE . I was terrible at every sport and still am. I bike, walk, and lift weights, but any other athletic endeavor is still not the slightest bit fun for me. I can’t even bowl or golf well, since I am uncoordinated at best. Thankfully, my girls don’t hate gym like I did. They aren’t super athletic, but are ok enough not to hate it. For kids like me, gym should have choices like some walking or riding on a stationary bike, rather than the sheer awfulness of failing at every team sport in existence.


Cbuffy January 14, 2014 at 6:56 am

I was one of those scrawny girls. Second smallest in the class. ONLY bonus? You could become nearly invisible and although always last picked for a team, I never had to come to bat, cuz I was easily forgotten. HATED sports. Still do. Don’t watch. Don’t play, don’t care! (Luckily I married a man who spent every weekend racing motocross, so he and his family never really got into ball sports, but boy-oh-boy if it has a motor and goes in a circle, we’re all over that!) Luckily I found yoga early on. (Thank you early morning TV!) I don’t do any sort of team things – in any facet of life – I haven’t got a competitive bone in my body – but at least I enjoy doing stuff by myself. Yoga, T-Tapp, riding my horse, walking in the woods (with my big, protective, scary Jack Russell/Chihuaua mix). Middle school PE is a blur of locker room anxst (I’m old enough that Flatsy was my nickname and the stupid song that went with the doll was my theme song), hiding in corners in the gym, and praying for the bell. Ick. There has GOT to be a better way to introduce kids to fun fitness!


JavaChick January 14, 2014 at 7:28 am

I certainly can’t top your story, but I absolutely hated gym class. I was not a naturally active kid, I was extremely shy and disliked groups. Gym class often involved team sports, which makes sense if you’ve got a whole group of kids to work with, but I hated all of it. For years I thought I hated exercise, that I had no athletic ability whatsoever; that does not seem like a good thing to be teaching kids.

The thing is, some kids liked team sports, liked running, were into gymnastics, etc. For those kids, I think gym is probably not so bad. For some kids, it was an easy mark on their report card. It would be great if everyone would get a chance to find something they like doing, and are capable of doing, so that each kid could find some physical activity they want to do, but I suspect that is difficult to do in a school setting. A shame.


JLVerde January 14, 2014 at 7:29 am

I didn’t go to middle school. We had elementary (ended at 6th grade) then went right to junior high (7 and 8) then high school. The junior high was this little tumor of a building attached to the high school (it was actually an old building connected to the new and fabulous high school). Most of your classes happened in the relative safety of the junior high tumor but everyone had to venture from that safety to go to. . .

The Pool.

Thinking back, the scant minutes we had to get from the safety of the junior high tumor to The Pool was probably a very good warm up. Once there you got to enjoy disrobing in front of your female classmates and then parade out to The Pool in your swimsuit where your male classmates were waiting.

If you were lucky, you could stay in the relative safety of the pool, where you could easily touch the bottom (except along the short ends where it was deeper so they could set up the goal nets for water polo–which we had to play). If you were not, you had to go to the Diving Tank, with its two springy diving boards and one diving platform, looming over a tank of water so deep it had to have light at the bottom. LIGHTS!

I was never afraid of water but I was (and still am) terrified of the Diving Tank. I hated having to learn to dive by tumbling off the side into that seemingly bottomless water. I hated having to tread water and be “saved” by a fellow classmate (on those days we practiced water safety). And I absolutely refused to mount any of the diving boards. The instructor made the mistake of telling us he couldn’t force us to do it. That was all I needed to hear.

I also hated the days we practiced assorted swimming stroke, which we were graded on. The instructor, cozy in his track suit on dry land, looming over you as you sputtered and splashed and tried to remember what direction to swirl your arm and legs. HORRIBLE.

Then, after that torture, you had to disrobe again and spend the rest of the day with wet hair. Worst yet was if you had Pool the last class of the day and had to go out to catch the bus (in the winter) with wet hair. Pneumonia anyone?


Joemama January 14, 2014 at 8:49 am

I hated the pool, too for all those reasons. In fact, until this moment, I had blocked swimming in gym from my memory.


Darwin January 14, 2014 at 9:17 am

“And thank YOU for bringing up such a painful memory! Next time…why don’t you just give me a paper cut and pour lemon juice on it!”

(name the movie)


Heather C January 14, 2014 at 8:21 am

Middle school PE was my worst nightmare. I wasn’t athletic and was shy but the worst of it was that they would weigh us in PE. Every year, there was only one girl, Allison B, who weighed more than me. It was humiliating and horrifying and had me convinced at the age of 12 that I was a moose. Now, as an adult, I realize that my 2nd highest weight finish had more to do with the fact that I was 5 feet 11 in the 8th grade than with me being fat but the imprint stuck and I would say contributed to me developing ED issues later. It just reinforced that there was something wrong about my large, compared to my peers, ungainly body. I did have more positive PE experiences in high school. The PE teacher was also the girl’s basketball coach who was constantly asking me to join the girls basketball team telling me that I had “good touch with the ball”. While I never joined the basketball team (my sister had died my freshman year and I was in no mood to spend more time around my peers who had no clue what I was going through) that positive feedback made me feel like maybe I could be athletic.

I think schools should still have PE but keep the focus purely in moving and having fun instead of having skills or making it a competition.


Rachael January 14, 2014 at 8:26 am

Oh boy, way to dredge up the less-than-fond memories surrounding middle and high school gym class. I can almost smell it.

I dreaded gym class. I am rather athletic, but I am not coordinated at all. I swam competitively and broke several school records, and ran both cross country and track. But the lack of coordination doomed me to misery in gym class as it was based mostly on ball sports. Basketball? The worst. Tennis? Dismal. Soccer? At least I could just run around and mostly stay out of the way. I liked days where we could choose to run because then I was just on my own doing something I was half decent at. Of course one time I fell and skinned my knee pretty badly at the end of a run, so there was always opportunity for embarrassment.

And swimming in gym? They split the class based on gender, only girls swam with girls (I’m sure most were thankful). I had no qualms then about being in a swim suit as I wore one in front of loads of people regularly. But when we had swimming in gym it was winter and I was already doing two-a-days for swim team. I was constantly, wet, cold, chlorine-logged, dry skinned, and aching from my regular work outs. It was torture to get into the water part way through the morning and just kick around for a class period.


Joemama January 14, 2014 at 8:44 am

I liked gym. I should’ve hated it, but I liked it a lot. I was a huge nerd (not cool nerds like you have now, but a serious, nerdy nerd) but I was also very good at sports. It was fun to be picked last for a team because they thought I was lame, and then show them all up.
I did, embarrassingly, wet my pants one day, but it was from laughing so hard. We were playing on those planks of wood with wheels that they call “scooters” and were supposed to be pulling our team mate through an obstacle course while they held on to a jump rope. I went too fast and sent my friend rolling halfway across they gym. That is still the hardest I’ve ever laughed.
The only thing I didn’t like was volleyball. I am not good at it and it HURTS! Then,one week per semester, the boys and girls would all play together. I hated that most of all because if you missed a shot, the girls on your team would be clapping saying, “good try! Get ‘em next time” and the boys on your team would be frothing at the mouth and yelling, “Why didn’t you get that!? You have to hit the ball!”. That was always a trying week.
I never did understand why they thought a year of volleyball, scooters, parachutes and juggling would prepare you for a military-style fitness test. I failed every test on the Presidential Fitness Test every year. EVERY. YEAR. It was, and still is, my nemesis. I’d love to have had a go at it when I was really fit about 2 years ago. I bet I’d still have failed it.


Melissa January 14, 2014 at 9:41 am

I love your story about being picked last and showing everybody up! Something similar happened to my sister. She was a very serious (and VERY good) swimmer, so she didn’t do any school sports. (With 2 swim practices a day, there wouldn’t have been time even if she’d been interested.) So she wasn’t really known as an athlete at school, because no one from school was on her swim team. One time, they did a swimming unit in school gym, and when they were about to get in the water the first time, the teacher said that the kids who think they’ll be faster should line up near the front and the kids who think they’ll be slower should line up near the back, to avoid pile-ups. My sister lined up in the front initially, and one of the school’s star soccer players gave her the side-eye and said “don’t you think you should line up a little farther back?” My sister didn’t say anything…just went back to last in line, and then proceeded to lap EVERYONE, including the snotty soccer star. They never questioned her lining up in the front again.


Darwin January 14, 2014 at 9:47 am

I love that! Give your sister a “high five” for me!


Joemama January 14, 2014 at 9:51 am

Bwahaha! Good for your sister. That’s a great feeling.
I have such awe for swimmers. I’m scared of water and barely dog paddle, so good swimmers seem extra amazing to me.


Darwin January 14, 2014 at 9:21 am

I truly feel that ANYBODY who has been pregnant…is currently pregnant…or at some point in time in the future MAY become pregnant…

…should ALWAYS get a pass at the whole inconvenient bladder issues.


Melissa January 14, 2014 at 9:34 am

Ooooh, gym. Like so many, it was the bane of my existence as an adolescent, too. The only C I ever got was in high school gym. (Grades were 25% participation and effort, 25% written tests, and 50% physical tests…which seems particularly unfair considering it was a summer class where we only had a week to spend on each sport. You can’t really significantly improve at a sport in a week, which means that if you weren’t already good at it coming in, you were SOL.) The second year I took it, they made the standards easier and I got a B. But still…it did quite a number on my GPA.

The worst bullying incident of my middle-school years also happened in gym class. We were doing a “trust” exercise where we made these rolling raft-thingies by putting the mats on top of those flat rolling scooter things. One person would lie face-down on the mat with her head hanging off the front, and two others would stand at the back, running and pushing the mat as fast as they could. The IDEA of the activity was that the two people at the back would push you across the gym as fast as they could, but you would TRUST that they would stop before they slammed your unprotected head into the concrete wall on the other side of the gym.
Yeah. I’m sure you can guess how this story ends. The activity went swimmingly, except when it was my turn to hang my head off the front of the mat. They slammed my head into the wall of the gym at top speed.


Darwin January 14, 2014 at 9:53 am

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! And MORE Ouch!

That kind of thing can have negative repercussions throughout your whole body!

Did they face any consequences?

Or are we still waiting for karma to find them?


Melissa January 14, 2014 at 9:54 am

Honestly, I don’t remember if they faced any consequences. Unsurprisingly, my memories of the rest of that afternoon are kind of hazy.


Darwin January 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

Probably for the best…as moaning and throwing up are NOT the treasured events that would warm your heart and make you misty eyed nostalgic.


Jenny C. January 14, 2014 at 9:52 am

While I definitely agree that the Presidential Fitness Exam and middle school gym classes in general were terrible experiences for me, I will say that you might not be giving Bush 41 enough credit. Could he run the mile or do the pull ups necessary to pass? Maybe not.. I don’t really know. But I do know that even as late as 2009, I used to see him jogging on the treadmills at the Student Rec Center in College Station. Not to mention all the skydiving he’s done in the last decade!


Jess January 14, 2014 at 9:55 am

I loves gym when I was in Logan for elementary, but WVC did it differently and I didn’t enjoy it. Jr high I did great at archery, catch, bowling, but the tests were always about strength. Which me as a super scrawny girl did not have. Some how I passed…
My aunt on the other hand did not. She had a tumor in her belly and her coach forced her to do sit ups and supposedly that ruptured the tumor and sent it all over her body.
As for tag, that was banned when I was in elementary and received a couple white slips because of playing. Not even a danger of throwing a ball, just normal tag.


Abby January 14, 2014 at 10:16 am

I totally agree with you that ball tag, for the kids who want to play it at recess, should definitely be allowed! But until someone fixes the gym class problem (and I don’t know that that’s possible) I’m not sure I think gym class should exist at all.

I had 4 years of gym classes and in my middle school and high school several teachers taught classes at the same time so I watched at least a dozen gym teachers. I never saw anything that even remotely approached a good class that would instill any love of sports unless you were naturally athletic. I thought I sucked at anything athletic and it took me until my 20′s to realize that working out does not have to equal standing in a corner and screaming as a volleyball flies your way. I can kick butt in a HIIT class but I probably still couldn’t do an arm-hang for long (another awesome part of the Presidential fitness test!) without having ever practiced. I was the only kid in my class who got a 0 on that. I really think that if I had been allowed to investigate athletics on my own I might have realized so much sooner how much fun it can be and how much I love to workout. But instead gym class was so horrible I didn’t voluntarily break a sweat for the next 5 years. Makes me sad to think that I might have never realized how fun Zumba or TurboKick can be!


Geosomin January 14, 2014 at 11:58 am

I grew up in town of 300 so I had to play everything so we would have enough people for a team. We didn’t win much for obvious reasons and I was the pudgy out of shape kid, but we had a decent gym teacher. She made us try. Everything. As long as we tried it was enough. We had to do those fitness tests too, but there was no shame in pass fail. I ended up playing pretty much everything (and sucking at most of it) but the fact that we never had a chance of winning took the stress off and most of our playing was for fun. I honestly enjoyed baseball, soccer, curling and volleyball, except for the horrible shorts we had to wear (they flatter noone). Oddly enough school PE and school sports weren’t something that affected my attitude to fitness. I wasn’t very good at most things and definitely wasn’t the one you’d pick first for a team… just shy, large and out of shape. I wasn’t one of the popular crowd and was picked on, but it wasn’t anything really to do with sports. Just life in general for a shy pudgy nerdy kid.
To this day I don’t mind team sports, but found in university I stopped laying rec sports because it was competititive and not fun anymore. If I could get in on a “fun” league I would be up for softball or soccer now…just haven’t had the time to look for a team.


Cindy January 14, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I was a professional synchronized swimmer at 12 so I was athletic as a child, but I hated gym. I just found that so many of the jocks and coaches were mean spirited and I was a creative sensitive kid. I didn’t tell people what i did evenings and weekends so it was always a surprise to others when I did well. There was another girl that was heavily into ballet and she was quiet as well and shocked everybody whenever she was put to the test. Neither of us had time or desire to play on school teams so we blended in and were forgotten most of the time. Its really too bad all the quiet kids couldn’t be Clark Kent/Superman types at something that the school valued.


HappinessSavouredHot January 14, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Apart from one Grade 6 teacher who put me on the basketball team to boost my self-confidence (because I doubt it was for my talent), I don’t think any gym teacher ever did anything to make me enjoy their class. It was all about the 2-3 “athletes” of the class, nobody else got much attention. They would tell us to play a sport but they never told us the rules!

I think that’s why I mostly like individual sports even now: swimming, running, cycling, kayaking, etc.


Paula January 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I can relate to this story, and wholeheartedly agree.
Gym was not a pleasant experience for me. I have bad eyesight, which resulted in me being horrible at ball sports and the horror and social anxiety of being the cause of my team losing and of course my annoyed and disdainful classmates. Besides that we did a lot of turning, I’m horrible at that and it was cause of me being laughed at by the whole class, *sarcasm on* that was a lovely experience. Besides turning and ball sports we did a lot of running which hurt me in my throat and side. The only thing I liked was aerobics and fitness, also I was way more flexible than my classmates which made me feel a little better about myself.

In my later years I was blessed with a good gym teacher who was also my mentor, gym became a little better then, partly because he accepted it when I started to refuse to do the things I couldn’t do, we found a solution that I did something else instead. Still, I was highly surprised, years after that, when I discovered how much I liked to exercise.

I agree with the notion that exercise is good for children and it most certainly should not disappear, however… Not every activity is good for every person and especially in middle school with the social pressure it can be a disaster for everyone when someone is forced to do these activity’s. I think it would be nice to have a hall were there’s a wide choice of activity’s so that there’s something for every person. AND naturally teachers/ coaches who are trained to see someones ability’s and are able to get those talents out.

By the way, is it just me? Somehow I seem to notice that kids who aren’t good at sports aren’t very popular in school either.


Happier Heather January 14, 2014 at 1:48 pm

I LOVED gym class. Except for swimming and only because it was such a pain to get dressed for the next class afterward. I looked forward to 3 on 3 basketball unit because I was the only girl picked by the boys because, well, I was an aggressive rebounder. I never played any sports, so for me gym class was where I learned about team sports.

Anyway, I think gym is SUPER important. I was incredibly happy when my husband’s niece told me she plans on taking a weight lifting elective next year when she’s done with her required gym classes!


Robyn January 14, 2014 at 2:23 pm

I must be one of the lucky ones to have enjoyed most of my P.E. classes. We played every version of tag known to man, learned ballroom and folk dance, line dancing (woo hoo!), did ropes courses…it was a lot of fun.

However, the junior high swimming unit was about as awful as it got. We had to wear school-provided swim suits, and they had the unique property of expanding to twice their size when wet. Every girl learned very quickly to put on the tightest suit available, lest it turn into a tarp upon jumping into the pool. The boys had it even worse – they had to wear the speedo version.

At the time, I found the P.E. teacher’s attitude toward menstruation to be very traumatizing, but I suppose in the end I have to end up thanking her for forcing me to learn how to use tampons. There were no excused absences for things like that, and I wasn’t good enough at faking sick to get my parents to let me stay home from school.


Sarah January 14, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Oh boy, I can totally relate to the horror of the middle school Presidential Fitness Test. I, too, dreaded the mile with every fiber of my being. It might have started in 6th grade, when I got my period for the very first time on the day that we had to run the mile. It was certainly solidified in 8th grade, the only year that I managed to complete the mile in less than 10 minutes (9:54, I think it was)…and promptly vomited on the football field. I ate Trix for breakfast that morning. I will never forget.

I totally rocked the flexed-arm hang, though. Still do.

P.E. should be a great thing, but that test has got to go. Do they still do that, or have they realized that it doesn’t measure anything useful?


Kim January 14, 2014 at 2:45 pm

When I was in high school I didn’t have to take PE because I was in athletics for my gym credit (running cross country and track counted for PE!!).
Thankfully my boys have always had great PE teachers. Last year I subbed at the elementary they both went to (they have moved on) and my favorite sub days were the days I got to be the PE teacher!!


julia January 14, 2014 at 5:51 pm

I had bad experiences like everyone else. Mine was in elementary school where I had the same annoying gym teachers for all 5 years. I was recently rereading my (incredibly cringe worthy) diary from elementary school and I had written that one of the PE teachers said, “Julia is going to get beat up in middle school because she has such a bad attitude”. Okay??? I can’t really say if I did or not, but who says that?
Any way one suggestion I have for making gym better is having less team sports (hear me out). I know on the high school and kinda on middle school its more doable to have separate and different classes. Last year I was in racket sports even though I didn’t actually know how to play any racket sports. I guess my skills improved by the end of the semester, but only marginally. The experience for me was really crappy. I was embarrassed because I only really hit the ball half of the time. I also felt really bad for the people I was playing against because the score would end up 20 to 0. Winning is fun, but not when there isn’t a challenge. So by the end I didn’t gain an appreciation for racket or any other sports.
Another suggestion is a class for people who are crap as sports, because there are some kids who think they’re in the olympics; but I’ve gone on too long.


Megan @ Meg Go Run January 14, 2014 at 6:43 pm

I hated gym in MS and Hs, but not because of the teacher. I just didn’t like sports. I still don’t like sports. Now I love lifting and running. My gym teacher never made me feel like I couldn’t do something. I just didn’t give my best effort because I didn’t WANT to do it. Fast forward to 13 years after HS…. I did a 5k in my hometown. I won 3rd overall and 1st woman. My HS gym teacher was there. She came up to me crying. She was SO PROUD and I was so proud to show her what I could do. She said, “Megan, it wasn’t that you COULDN’T do it, you just didn’t WANT to. I knew you were an athlete.” My gym teacher is an amazing woman. It would have been easy for her to have been nasty to me in HS when she knew I wasn’t giving it my all, but she wasn’t. We need teachers like that.


Hay January 14, 2014 at 9:05 pm

All you need to do to avoid gym class is be incredibly clumsy and accident prone! The first month of gym class my Freshman year of high school, I managed to injure myself twice (it helps if you bleed profusely and cry like a little baby), and I didn’t have to do a darn thing all semester! Works like a charm!


Amy @ Run Mom Run January 14, 2014 at 9:33 pm

My elementary aged boys have a phenomenal PE teacher and it is hands down their favorite class at school. I never took PE in school because I got my credits waved because of the ballet company I was in at the time, so I never had any of those horrible sounding experiences. However, I do know that taking PE out of school would be detrimental for my boys. The only reason they can focus for the rest of the day is because they have time to get their wiggles out. That’s the same reason we walk almost a mile to school every morning, rain or shine. A little physical activity first thing in the morning makes the whole day go better for them!


Susan Helene Gottfried January 15, 2014 at 7:01 am

I’m sending this to my daughter’s Middle School gym teacher, who has done wonders with my daughter. She still hates gym but loves her teacher, and I am slowly seeing even the “I hate gym” part come around.


Sam January 15, 2014 at 9:46 pm

As an educator myself, I have a different perspective on gym class. I think it needs to set kids up to find a sport they can play later, and when they’re younger it needs to teach them physical and mental discipline to improve their performance in other classes.

SO many kids have so-called ‘ADD’ when really what they have is LACK OF EXERCISE. I wish gym class allowed kids to really explore a sport they could enjoy. I also wish gym class were used as an educational tool. I don’t mean turn it into a class, but I do mean let kids know exactly how and why getting that exercise will improve their performance in classes. Schedule some sort of physical activity DAILY at the optimal time to boost energy for study. Something!


Fat loss tea January 22, 2014 at 7:35 pm

It seems like physical activity is one of the most dreaded of all weight loss factors and that is why we hate going to the gym. All we wanted is lose weight without exercising which is impossible to do.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: