I grew up in Soberton Heath. It’s easy to miss. If you blink as you drive through it, you’ll miss it entirely. It’s in the middle of nowhere, tucked away in the rolling hills of rural Hampshire and consequently I grew up in what was effectively one big outdoor playground. I was outside most days if the weather was ok; running around, climbing trees and evading farmers who took umbrage at our pre-teen trespassing. So there you have it – I was an active child, destined to grow up playing sport, right?
Droxford Primary School. 1987. Year of the Great Storm™, memorably NOT forecast by Michael Fish. A time of Wham! and Bananarama, not to mention a baby no-one puts in the corner… It’s a summertime lunchtime so everyone’s outside on the playground. A game of football is being played. And I love the game. I did then as I do now. So I was out there playing, right?
As an 8 year old, I was quiet and not very confident at all. And this for me is what was critical in shaping my first years’ experience of (not) playing sport. Now, this is only my view, my memory of that time, but it seemed that the boys (girls didn’t even get a look-in) who played football at break times were the most socially confident, rather than the most physically able. The same group of boys who, it seemed to my shy younger self, dominated our school year. The ‘cooler’ ones, the ones peers and teachers noticed. The playground was tribal. If I was an American Indian warrior, I would be less ‘Sitting Bull‘ and more ‘Reading Books’.
Like everywhere, there’s a social hierarchy at work at school. As soon as kids become aware of themselves and others, this comes into play. And so, the shy, bookish young boy that I was didn’t have the confidence to join in with playground sport. And when you’re not involved at break time, it can mean you are behind the development curve in PE as well, which can reduce your sporting confidence further.
So, the end of the story then? Luckily not. As a confident, outgoing adult, I have found opportunities to play the sport I love most, through after-work five-a-side games, where ability is not the key attribute (but more on that another time).
Well, this post started hopefully enough didn’t it? Then it kind of tailed off into a ‘poor me’ story.. Don’t worry, my posts will mostly be upbeat, odd and rambling. Allow me this fleeting introspection.
This post then. What is my point? I guess I have two.
Firstly, you don’t have to be an active child to be an active adult. There are opportunities at every age to get involved. Whether it’s playing sport after work with colleagues or friends, or opting for adapted sports when your body isn’t up to the rigours of the full game (I personally think that even now, Walking Football might be more my pace).
Secondly, if you have children, or are a teacher or coach, then do your best to encourage the less confident kids to get involved in sports, to try a few and hopefully find at least one they like. Winning is a great feeling, but not everyone can excel at sport. Luckily, just getting active can increase your self-confidence off the field and improve your mental health, so there’s something in it for everyone.