Should our kids skip team sport at school?

ACTIVE ALTERNATIVES: Should schools stop forcing students to play team sports, and instead shift the focus to encouraging healthy fitness habits?
ACTIVE ALTERNATIVES: Should schools stop forcing students to play team sports, and instead shift the focus to encouraging healthy fitness habits? Thinkstock

TALKING about physical education in schools generally gets one of two reactions: a happy smile or a horrified shudder.

Chiara Belluomo falls into the second category. She says being forced to play team sports was her worst nightmare.

The 26-year-old went to a large private school at Bowral, in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, and she had an impressive arsenal of tricks to skip class.

"I've done everything I could to get out of it from faking blood noses - I even brought bloody tissues to school - to the period excuse, to pretending something bad was happening at home and just crying,” she said.

When asked how the experience affected her later in life, she laughed and said "it's made me more manipulative as an adult, I'm very creative”.

Ms Belluomo explained for people who weren't naturally sporty, the worst part about being forced to play team sports at school was being publicly shamed.

"(It) was awful especially when the teachers would single you out. I've got terrible hand-eye co-ordination,” she said.

She avoided teams sports and fitness as much as possible until she had something of a revelation at university, when she discovered she actually really enjoyed going to the gym to attend pilates and yoga classes.

"I think that was just a hangover from this awful, archaic attitude to sport. I didn't do sport at all until I got to uni, and there was this new take on fitness,” she said.

Physical education in schools has never been more important.

Research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows more Australians are overweight or obese than ever before, and along with dietary risks, it's the second highest contributor to our national burden of disease.

Would it be different if schools stopped forcing Australian students to play team sports, and instead shifted the focus to encouraging healthy fitness habits?

Leah Davies told her son Ryan, who is currently enrolled in Year 10 at a public school in Western Victoria, really hated playing football.

Mrs Davies said although he's healthy and can happily kick a footy around for hours on end, he doesn't enjoy the intensity of being forced into a team.

"Instead of making it fun, it was all about the competition, and he did not enjoy that. The peer group exacerbated it. I think it's the exclusion, you're in or you're out.

"Ryan loves being out and about, he loves his bike, and if it's a nice day he'll be out the door. It's not an aversion to being active, it's just team sports.”

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority told the national health and physical education curriculum simply aimed to teach students the movement skills they needed to participate in physical activities. Beyond that, it's up to state and territory education departments and individual schools to decide what is actually taught in class.

Topics:  obesity school

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