PE is Not on the Agenda…

How many people hated physical exercise whilst at School? I actually quite enjoyed it despite my PE teacher being rather strict. Mr Davis was his name and he didn’t appreciate any time wasters. I remember him being a bit hard on some of the pupils but in essence he just wanted to get the best out everyone. My school time table read a whole afternoon of PE once a week and I can remember the sense of dread from my fellow classmates, especially if cross country was on the agenda. However, I was quite lucky at school when it came to participating in sports, we could do Athletics, Tennis, Rugby, Football, even Basketball, the choice was vast. I certainly could have made more of those days but do I regret it doing them? Not at all. It gave me a basic grounding in being a sportsman, taught me many things about life in general and certainly kept me in shape which indeed has kept me on a path to staying that way. I still play regular sport to this day.

A few generations ago, sport was an essential part of the school curriculum in the UK but has never been really made compulsory apart from the more exclusive private schools. I do feel that PE is not pushed enough now in general or at least it could be much better. We hear on the news about the ever growing obesity problem with children in the UK and that they are becoming more sedate for the obvious reasons, namely the internet, video games and TV. Some of them also seem to lack the basic social skills and are more interested in doing solitary things rather than do things as a group.

In order to acquire good behaviour, habits and excel in a chosen endeavour, I feel that the younger a person starts almost certainly the better. It’s all about having a good grounding from the beginning. This can also can apply to exercise. It is a form of work after all which requires motivation, willpower even planning, essential life skills that can be learned for use later in life. It’s a sign of the technological times that children have so many distractions, a few years ago there was only limited things that they could do. Nevertheless, this enhances my point even more that I’d like PE to be made compulsory in all schools around the UK.

Of course, schools can only do so much for the pupil. Much of their learning will come from their parents and chosen peers. Once the school gates are closed, they can choose to sit down and do nothing for the rest of the evening. Here is a valid reason already. If the child chooses not to do any exercise out of school time then at least they have done something during it, if they decide to play sports outside the classroom then all the better. So what can regular exercise can do for a child? I was reading an article on PE in schools recently and I came across four distinctive words: physical, mental, social and emotional, let’s have a look at each one in turn.

So the obvious one is physical, regular exercise is good for the body in many ways. It keeps the heart and lungs healthy, minimises the onset of obesity and other similar complications, it also improves blood circulation. Muscles and bone structure are improved along with a increased level of fitness which can provide a deterrent against illness and other such diseases.

Mentally, sport can be extremely beneficial for the young mind. The elements of hard work, discipline and goal setting can induce an amazing sense of achievement. This can lead to a improvement in self esteem and an appreciation of ones abilities. The overall result can lead to an increase in confidence which is so important to instill in a child.

We are by our very nature social creatures and school years are paramount to building up these skills. Although a social skill set can be learnt by normal day to day interaction, participating in sports offers the experience of working together in a team to attain a common goal. This can induce a tremendous sense of togetherness and camaraderie in an individual even before and after a game is played. There will be talk of tactics, general game play and winning in the changing rooms. A child can learn to build up a good rapport with his fellow team mates this way, learn more about the importance of interaction and communication. As this rapport and interaction build, long lasting friendships can be made which again is extremely important to nurture at a young age.

Lastly, there is the emotional aspect. Exercise offers the young person a chance to come out of his or her comfort zone. Fears are addressed and hopefully conquered, making the child feel happier and hopefully more connected with the world. Endorphins, the body’s ‘feel good’ hormones are released during intense exertion, which can improve mood, combat depression, provide stress relief and also inhibit anxiety. All these attributes mentioned can spill onto their daily lives both in the classroom and out.

It’s also worth mentioning that the PE structure has changed and improved somewhat over the last 20-30 years. Rather than have a standard list of typical popular sports, there is also emphasis on the non-traditional. Activities such as Kickboxing, Yoga and Aerobics now feature on the menu. The concept is based on what a typical health club around the UK may offer with a varying selection of classes to suit all tastes. Some are run more like a sports league whereby pupils can be take on various roles such as coaches, referees and reporters. Many other life skills can be learnt using this process including leadership, decision making and writing skills.

So today, schools have a job not just to educate but to create a well rounded individual, one who is able to cope in the outside world with all its trials and tribulations. Much of this can come from having a sound mind and attitude which can be attained from the major benefits I’ve already mentioned. There is simply not enough being done at present to ensure that young people can lead active, healthy lives and this is where enforced physical education can help in a big way. Each and every pupil is entitled to a good start and I firmly believe that an active body and mind can work in a great unison with the academic one to ensure use of the best possible tools to build a successful, enriching life.

Of course there will be some issues to address along the way. Time and patience would have to be made for varying degrees of abilities and indeed enthusiasm from the individual; not all will be open to sport at first. Some will also find taking part in sport easier than others due to confidence issues which will have to be tackled and hopefully minimised. There will always be the problem child or perhaps troublemaker that may make things difficult at times. So In order for the system to work it will be imperative to have the proper management, support, supervision and encouragement. Progress and communication would also play a vital role both to the pupil and indeed their parents or guardians. It will take a large degree of hard work and action to get there but it is achievable.

Every week when I attend my martial arts class, I line up and wait until the children’s class has finished. When they finally emerge, I hear laughter, excitement, innocent banter and fun. Much of these young adults cannot be much more than 10 years old but they are already learning valuable life skills; interacting, facing challenges, steadily growing into active and healthy adults. You don’t have to look to hard to see the results and this is just one class in one club in one area in one tiny part of the UK. Now just imagine this wave of positive energy being spread across schools all around the country.

Pete Rann


Toastmasters speech delivered circa 2011

© 2014 Pete Rann