In Which I Agree With Charlie Brooker

Yes, really…

Brooker is on form with this polemic on team sports at school. His experiences and reactions were pretty much the same as mine, so I empathise.

Ministers are concerned that Britain’s schoolkids aren’t doing enough team sports. Good for them. The kids, that is. Not the ministers. I’ll dumbly and instinctively side with anyone trying to bunk off games. Apart from preventing obesity and heart attacks and diabetes and high blood pressure and premature death, what exactly is school sport good for?

Bugger all, frankly. The excuse was that it taught us to be part of a team, but you don’t need to strip half naked and spend an hour and a half running about on permafrost chasing a useless bag of wind to do that. Using football, rugby or cricket to instill team playing and competitiveness in a group of schoolboys displays a lack of imagination on the one hand and a complete failure of psychological understanding on the other. Some people don’t like team sports and never will. That does not mean that they cannot learn to be part of a team, though. So, frankly, back to my first response to Charlie’s question; bugger all. And as for the fitness angle, folk like me who used all sorts of whiles to avoid it, fitness was something achieved out of school on long cycle rides. I neither needed nor wanted school sports to keep me fit.

The benefits aren’t merely physical, grunt the experts, through their thick, sport-liking mouths. Team games build character. I can’t argue with that. They certainly helped strengthen the more cunning and resentful elements of my personality.

Yup, been there, done that. Like Brooker, I found ways around it. If I could get myself sent out on a cross country run, then I’d be delighted. I and a few other dissenters would run out of sight then spend the rest of the lesson just ambling about before running back to the changing rooms. If I was unfortunate enough to have to go onto the football pitch I just made sure that the ball and I never came in contact. If it did come my way, I’d move so that it was no longer coming my way. Sure, the Jocks didn’t like it, although they didn’t treat me as badly as some of Brooker’s classmates. Perhaps because I was defiant in my refusal to participate rather than terrified. Perhaps because it was no secret that my extra-curricular sporting activities included Judo and I was a junior green belt.

On the flipside, apparently more kids are doing weird non-team sports such as archery and golf. Yes, golf. 66% of boys get to play golf at school these days. Striding around the wilderness wielding a club? On school time? Never played it myself, but God I envy them.

Indeed. There was one rare occasion when I was allowed to take my bow into school as the PE teachers wanted to demonstrate other sports. They discovered that far from being a lost cause who had no interest in the usual stuff, I could shoot. And, unlike the teacher, hit the target…

Team sports are overrated, frankly. If people like them, fine, but forcing unwilling participants to take part is self defeating. Like Brooker, I have harboured a lifelong hatred of ball games as a direct outcome of being forced to play them at school.

Sure, I was also forced to do maths, science, geography and English, but these were at least of use to me in later life and I was sufficiently aware of that at the time. Football has been of no use to me whatsoever and never will be.


  1. Oh joy! At last, someone who has the same opinion and experience of school sports. Being made to play is a real turn off! I played rugby for my house and hated it. I too used my bike a great deal and was very fit.

    I would have loved to play golf at school too. I play now and it is fun. Airsoft… I play that ‘sport’….a great way to run around a lot all day and shoot at people. But at school……that would be a real wowser!

  2. Team sports don’t do the things Brooker mentions (tongue in cheek, admittedly). Exercise doesn’t need to involve teams and forcing people to do these activities merely puts people off. The comments seem to be pretty much universally supportive of Brooker’s (and mine) position, which is interesting. It does rather paint a bleak picture of PE teachers.

    Exercise is good. I got mine from cycling, judo and archery. I had no need of football, rugby or cricket. If it had not been for my school experience, I might have merely been indifferent about them. As it is, I detest them all, utterly and completely.

    So, in what way is enforced team sports at school a good thing?

  3. The women who taught me games were the least academically qualified of my teachers, droned on and on about “self-control” (sexual continence, presumably, though they were never explicit), and made parts of most school days a misery. I can only think that producer interest is the reason for sports teachers insisting that team games are necessary for the development of team spirit, when they must see that the same spirit is fostered by choral singing, instrumental ensemble playing of all kinds, and some sorts of dancing: country, morris, Scottish, ballroom, ballet, jazz, tap etc. Singing and dancing are cheap and brilliant aerobic exercise. If they insist on a competitive element, there are music festivals, dance-offs and Eisteddfods. In 1990s Serbia, TV evening news was followed by sport and then by culture (local folkdance groups, choirs etc). Fat chance of that ever happening in the UK.

  4. School games is part of the balance of life. After you’ve spent double English discussing your love of George Elliot (or whoever), or a lesson or two of quadratic equations, all of which you academics love, then its only fair that the large but thick kid at the back of the class gets to pound your face into the mud at rugby. It evens things up a bit and gives him a reason to put up with all that academic stuff you prefer.

  5. I never considered myself particularly academic, either. I was dreadful at maths, preferring the arts.

    My judo skills made sure the thick kid didn’t pound my face into the mud – at least, never more than one attempt. I do recall one occasion when one such ended up winded on his back with a remarkably satisfying look of bewilderment mixed with pain on his face. Like I said, he only tried it the once. 😉

    It never pays to make too many assumptions about that quiet academic looking kid, eh?

  6. So there I was on the rugby field aged 14 and expected to go into the second line of the scrum. Two wet 14 year old arses in clinging skimpy shorts beckoned me. I balked.
    “Come on you big puff!” yelled the psychotic games teacher, “Get your head in there lad!”
    A “big puff” for NOT wanting to stick my head between 2 young lads wet arses?!
    35 years later and I’m still trying to work that one out.

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