Gym class memories either give you post-traumatic flashbacks or the opportunity to relive your glory days. If you were a sports star or even a mid-level jock, this isn’t for you. This is for the rest of us.
1. Having to dress out.
Not every school requires students change into a PE uniform anymore. Some allow students to bring their own cute workout attire. This may be further evidence of the wimpification of today’s youths. Because we had to wear polyester short-shorts, kiddos. These were also the clothes that stayed stuffed in a gym locker for five days, so they weren’t just ugly by Friday. They were ripe.
Parents who desire to see their children suffer the same indignities will be heartened to know that many districts still require old school “dressing out.”
This paragraph, from the website of J.E.J. Moore Middle School in the Prince George County Public Schools in Virginia, detailed the overt reasoning:
“The uniform was adopted for safety reasons such as being able to distinguish our students from others.”
In our case, the covert reasoning may have been to render students distinguishable from happier forms of life.
Edwardsville High School will unveil its new swimming pool for students to use during PE later this fall. This may look like progress to some, but it is likely to strike fear in the heart of any teenager who has struggled with a bad hair day.
Get ready for weeks of ponytails, ladies.
That may not even compare, however, to the dread of having to change into a swimsuit in front of your entire class. Of course, being able to swim is a life-saving skill, but wouldn’t it be kinder to teach the kindergartners the swim unit?
3. Running laps.
Some gym instructors have a simple philosophy to all that may ail you.
Forgot your clothes to dress out? Laps.
Need an attitude adjustment? Laps.
It’s Friday? You guessed it: Laps.
Bonus misery points for those who have to run laps outside first thing in the morning or right after lunch.
4. Lacking coordination.
Nowadays, many gym teachers assign teams or have students count off into teams to avoid Being Picked Last Syndrome. But there’s no way to spare those who lack coordination for the sport of the moment — or any activity requiring the simultaneous movement of eyes and hands.
Anthony Miller, 20, a junior at the University of California- Berkeley, remembers a day at Parkway North High School that marked the start — and end — of his athletic career.
He was a freshman among several upperclassmen participating in an end-of-the-year kickball game in PE. He had been waiting near the back of the line and ran up to the plate to launch a mighty kick.
“I fell pretty flat on my ass,” he said. He lay on the ground for a few moments, covered his face with his hands and shook with laughter, which seemed like the only reasonable thing he could do at the moment, while 50 or so classmates watched.
His PE teacher, however, mistook his coping mechanism and ran up to him to ask him if he was OK.
“He thought I was crying, which only made it worse,” Miller said.
The coach bent over and asked: “Are you OK, Anthony?”
“It only amplified the shame,” Miller said.
To make matters even worse, Miller had been wearing white shorts. The backside was covered in a large grass stain for the rest of the day.
Of course, he had PE first period.
5. Being humiliated by the coach.
A 2010 study by University of Alberta researcher William Strean found that “a lifelong negative attitude toward physical activity can be determined by either a good or bad experience, based on the personal characteristics of the coach or instructor. For example … a teacher who has low energy, is unfair and/or someone who embarrasses students.”
He used 24 qualitative accounts from adults recalling their own childhood gym experiences in the study, and some of their memories were so painful that they carried those negative associations well into adulthood.
No one enjoys being yelled at, embarrassed, teased or taunted, certainly not by your peers, nor by a coach who may think he or she is being motivational or funny.
An early label of being “bad” at sports or physical activity can stay with an individual years beyond high school.
6. Getting injured.
A PE injury is never glamorous. It can happen in myriad embarrassing ways: Falling, hitting yourself in the head, running into a wall.
Oftentimes, it’s made so much worse because you’re trying not to bawl in front of your peers.
Hallie Brychel, 20, at the University of Kansas, recalled a kayaking unit during a class she took at Parkway North. They were learning how to flip the kayak over in the pool. She pushed off the side of the pool wall and came up to see a look of horror on her friend’s face.
“Your arm!” her friend said. Brychel had sliced her arm open a couple of inches below her elbow, probably on a piece of tile in the pool wall, she said.
It was that day, of all days, that they had a student teacher. The student teacher looked horrified and unsure of what to do, she said.
“She told me to go straight to the nurse,” Brychel said. She wrapped herself in a big towel and her friend walked her down to the nurse’s office. She remembers sitting in her wet swimsuit in the air conditioning. The nurse took a look at her arm and said: You’re going to have to go the emergency room.
Her mother came to pick her up and drove her to the hospital.
She needed 24 stitches.
The only upside: “I didn’t have to do anything in PE for a couple of weeks.”
7. Taking showers.
The showers are a lose-lose proposition in the vast majority of schools. Some schools have no shower facilities. Good luck to those who have PE early in the day.
Others have invested in entire shower systems but couldn’t spring for doors or shower curtains. Even in schools with semi-private showers, no one ever uses them. During those awkward years of puberty, who can blame them?
Most young people would have no shower than a shower with no privacy.
8. Avoiding dodgeball.
It was Patches O’Houlihan, who infamously said “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”
Not everyone can dodge a wrench. Grade school is a harsh time to realize this.
Cheryl Richardson, senior director of the SHAPE America, the Society of Health and Physcial Educators, the organization that produces national PE standards, says in an essay by Jessica Olien on Slate that “dodgeball should not be part of any curriculum, ever.”
Our teachers missed that memo.
Cue busted faces and crushed egos.
9. Weigh in.
Many people prefer to step on the scale in the privacy of their bathrooms and refuse to share this information with even those who share intimate living space with them.
In some schools, however, this annual ritual takes place front of everyone. In a gym. Given how early children become aware of body image issues, this can be a recipe for disaster.
I’ll never forget hearing a neighbor’s child lamenting that she weighed too much. She was an active soccer player, physically fit and trim.
She was in third grade.
10. Square dancing.
At an age when many children do not want to be seen touching a child of the opposite sex, they are forced to pair off, hold hands and learn the “Cotton-Eye Joe.”
What good has ever come of this?