By David A. Cooper:-What's the point of Gym? Is is supposed to make you fit and healthy? Politicians seem to think it will, but we all know that politicians are stupid. Let me spell out why I consider Gym to be a total waste of time:-
Now, a lot of people will say that I've described a gym class run by an exceptionally bad gym teacher, but sadly that is not the case: the gym lesson I have described is the one that most children get in their school. The exceptionally bad gym teacher makes it a great deal worse by shouting at children throughout and by keeping track of time so badly that the group which starts furthest from the climbing frame only gets a go on it three or four times a year: not much of a reward for the group containing two of the three people who actually bother to climb the ropes. Incidentally, later on I was able to get a lot more access to a rope to climb and was able to develop the power to race up it using only my arms, but why wasn't I allowed to do that in primary school?
- Gym simply isn't exercise: you never even get warmed up. There's also something highly suspect about a system which makes boys go naked from the waist up and which doesn't even let girls wear shorts over their underpants. I've even seen a gym class on television where the boys were made to wear nothing but Y-fronts! (That was just within the last year or so.) Do these people who run schools actually care about children's feelings at all? Is it to let them lose heat while exercising hard? Well, in my school we were cold in summer and absolutely frozen in winter: the format of the gym "lessons" barely let us exercise enough to stop shivering.
- Walking along upside-down benches is not exercise, and it isn't much of a challenge. The only exception may be for a few children with balance problems, but why waste everyone else's time on it?
- Then there's the wonderful idea of propping one end of a bench up on another bench so that you can run up the sloping one and jump off the end of it! Oh what jolly fun! Well, at least it's a chance to do some gentle running.
- Let's move on to the mat now: forward rolls (though further up the school it becomes backward rolls if you're lucky). The mat feels cold and unpleasant against your back, so you only ever do a roll if the gym teacher looks your way for more than a few seconds.
- Now some horizontal canes propped up on stands: another chance to do some slow running and little jumps, though it's mainly a matter of standing around waiting for other people to get out of the way.
- Oh goodie! It's the box! You jog along, jump on the ever-so-slightly-springy piece of wood and up onto the box. Then you jump off the other side and go back to wait your turn to do it again. The box is too big to do anything more daring with it, so the format never changes.
- And next comes the horse: it's treated exactly the same way as the box. You'd like to have a go at that thing you see them do on the pommel horse in the Olympics, but you're not allowed to: that might be too much like a real bit of exercise. In any case, it would be too hard: you need one of those mushroom shaped things to learn on, but the school doesn't have any.
- Oh dear! The gym teacher's run out of ideas: two benches in a line with a long gap between them. Another boring little run, and you daren't go too fast in case you slip and fall: the carpet causes terrible friction burns.
- And finally the climbing frame: most of the children just swing on the ropes, though two or three adventurous ones in the class might get a little exercise by climbing them.
indentGym should be entirely optional. If it was, the gym teacher would be forced to offer a higher quality service in order to keep her job. Those children who are interested in doing things of a gymnastic nature would be able to take part in the specific activities which interest them: I would have turned up to climb ropes and to have a go on that mushroom thing. I would also have been interested in learning to do some basic tumbling, though I'm not sure if gym teachers are ever trained in how to teach that kind of thing. As it was, I spent a hundred and forty hours in that gym, but a hundred and thirty eight of that was completely wasted. In many schools today they waste twice as much time on Gym as we did.
indentIf you want children to exercise more, you need to hand over control to them and let them decide how to use their time properly. If they are bored, it means that the time is being wasted. My school was next to the woods: I would have liked to have been able to go running in there every day, doing perhaps three or four miles. That would have been exercise, but the school system made it impossible to do that even once: I had to wait until I was in secondary, and even then it was restricted to once a week for several weeks, and then a wait of a year before the next opportunity.
indentRather than encouraging it, schools actually prevent children from exercising. In secondary there is a rigid system of forcing everyone to take part in a whole lot of different sports which results in many of them standing around avoiding the action. I lost count of the number of hours I spent "playing" rugby, but I only ever touched the ball once. In tens of hours "playing" basketball in a roasting hot gym, I never touched the ball at all. In countless more hours "playing" hockey, I never touched the ball once. All sporting activities in schools should be one hundred percent optional, because all you do by forcing people to take part in sports they aren't interested in is waste their time and make them hate those sports. I would rather have gone for a long run every time, but I wasn't allowed to. The system actively prevented me from becoming the athlete I wanted to be.
indentIt is of course likely that many children would choose to do no sport whatsoever if they were allowed to opt out of it, but the reality is that they get no real exercise doing sport when they're forced into it either. If you want to maximise the amount of real exercise that they do, it has to be entirely optional and they have to be able to choose which sports they want to be involved in. What you can do, however, is encourage them to take part in sport by offering financial rewards for achievements. There should be times set for running and swimming certain distances at certain ages which when beaten would result in money being handed over. Countless billions of pounds are spent on wasting children's time by trying to make them take part in sports they aren't interested in, all in the hope that it will make them live healthier lives, but it's a complete failure: they get fatter by the year. Why don't we try just giving the money directly to them instead in the form of rewards for athletic achievement: that will guarantee that they get healthier and it will give the whole idea of exercising a positive association in their minds. And please stop rationing their access to exercise: let them do as much as they like, and make sure the equipment they want to use is available so that they can do such things as climb ropes every day if they want to.