Half-Assing Your Way Through Gym Class: A Time-Honored Tradition

The school year is finally coming to an end, and my daughter's grades are great. Mostly.

The one sole exception to this is, somehow, gym class. I know she hates gym. I know she sits out a lot, even though she loses points when she does. I've talked to her about this. Her father has talked to her about this. It finally got critical when Daddy threatened to take her beloved phone away from her if she didn't work harder at getting her grade up.

In other words, she has to participate. He's frustrated, because he was a high school athlete, and he looks at his beautiful, long-limbed, strong-armed, fast-running daughter and doesn't understand why PE is a class she could possibly be having any difficulty with.

To him, PE is a no-brainer. You show up, you put on your gym clothes, you particpate, you get an "A." Simple.

And he's right. 

But he's also never been a girl in gym class, much less an introverted girl in gym class. I have. 

Getting undressed in the locker room and hoping nobody's looking at you and thinking you're too _________ (fat/skinny/weird looking...fill in the blank).

Putting on your shorts and hoping you don't have cellulite on the backs of your thighs (even though you don't weigh 100 pounds yet) because someone's bound to notice and tell someone.

Running laps and hearing the girls behind you laughing about how stupid you look when you run.

Wondering if the boys are watching because you looked really awkward just now doing that thing the teacher made you do.

Not being very good at most of what you have to do, and praying you don't get picked last when they choose teams.

Going to your next class with flat, sweaty hair and knowing your face is still red and you look about as bad as a middle school girl can look.

It's more than just showing up. It's getting through it. And that, I know from personal experience, is hard.

I was not an athletic girl. I didn't come from a family that valued athletics in any form. We didn't watch football, or basketball, or hockey. We didn't start tee ball or dance classes or cheerleading when we were kids. I did take gymnastics classes for a few years after getting inspired by the Olympics, and I got pretty good at it, until an injury sidelined me and I never started back up again. I got involved in Speech & Drama and Chorus, and I never missed the athletic stuff, not one bit.

And I loathed gym class. I always felt like the clumsiest, stupidest, most useless girl on the field, and I approached class each day with the same enthusiasm I'd give to unanesthetized root canal. I knew why they made us take gym. I understood what they were trying to accomplish. But I hated it all the same.

So I sat my girl down, and I gave her permission. Just suit up, I said. Put on your shorts, do what they tell you to do, and give it what you feel like giving it that day. If that's 50%, that's fine. You have my full permission, in this one class, to half-ass your way through it. You have to participate, you have to be respectful to your teacher and your classmates, but if your best isn't running as fast or jumping as high or sinking as many baskets or hitting as many balls as everyone else is, I'm okay with that. Give it a try, that's all I ask. Give it a try, and just get through it.

I know why they make my daughter take gym. I even approve of it. But she's very active out of school, so I'm not worried about her fitness on a daily basis. I know it's important that she have a well-rounded education, and that team sports can build confidence.

But I also know that for some kids, the shy kids, the non-athletic kids, gym class can be a gauntlet that they have to run.

And that, for some, is not exercise.

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