Humiliation in physical education classes as a child by a bad PE teacher can turn people off fitness for good, according to Billy Strean, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.
Teachers such as Brian Glover’s brilliant portrayal of the bullying games master in Ken Loach’s 1969 film Kes may be a thing of the past but it seems some of their negativity lingers on.
Strean says a negative lifelong attitude towards physical activity can be determined by either a good or a bad experience, based on the personal characteristics of the coach or instructor.
For example, negative experiences may come from a teacher who has low energy, is unfair and who embarrasses students.
During his research, Strean heard from individuals who opened up about negative experiences with coaches and instructors, some from many years ago.
One study participant 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.”
Strean hopes to raise awareness of such experiences so those who instruct children in sport will realise they have the ability to create either a fun and playful experience or one of humiliation.
He has tips for coaches and teachers, including putting attention on fun, connecting with friends and learning and until children enter their teens, minimising attention on outcomes.
He also found study participants had better experiences from minimally organised games such as street hockey and suggests teachers try not to over-organise sports and allow the children to explore sporting activities on their own, with minimal rules and no scorekeeping.