Memories of PE at school

Since reading Anna Kessel’s ‘Eat Sweat Play‘ I’ve been thinking about my relationship to sport and exercise throughout my life. It seems a fairly common…


Memories of PE

Since reading Anna Kessel’s ‘Eat Sweat Play‘ I’ve been thinking about my relationship to sport and exercise throughout my life. It seems a fairly common experience to have detested PE lessons at school. During my secondary school years, I was definitely more arty and musical than sporty. Whilst I never actually bunked lessons, I would put in as little effort as possible and avoid getting sweaty or muddy.

I had no sporting ability or skill and found the teachers to be discouraging, so I never really engaged with lessons throughout school.

Outside of school, I briefly dabbled in dancing, karate, running and took swimming lessons up until the age of 12. In fact, I found this photo of me and my Dad taking part a local fun run in 1993. I believe it was 4 miles, but it felt like a marathon at the time!

Memories of PE at School

Inspired by Tamsyn’s post, here are some of my memories of PE at school…

I was very intimidated by any sports involving throwing and catching, convinced that I would be hit and knocked unconscious by a rogue ball. The fear started when we were made to watch a health and safety video on track and field sports. Some harrowing footage of the dangers of the javelin and shot-put really freaked me out. In rounders, I’d position myself as far in the deep field as possible to avoid having the catch the ball.

PE Kit consisted of a white cotton T-shirt tucked in to bottle-green polyester knickers. Sometimes we would be allowed to wear a pleated netball skirt over the knickers, but generally our thighs would be exposed to the elements. I felt so self-conscious and aware of legs wobbling as I ran, even at a young age when I wasn’t particularly fat. I’m not sure what school PE kit is like these days, but I seriously hope it is more flattering than in the 90s!

The school swimming pool must have been on the verge of being condemned, the water was green and it was housed in a mouldy greenhouse-like structure. The pool seemed to be lined with sandpaper, you would scrape the skin off your toes every time they came into contact with the bottom. Kids would throw (unused) tampons into the pool and laugh as teachers fished them out.

My school backed onto a nature reserve which we would use as a cross-country running course. Running through thick mud and jumping over the rat-infested brook were the absolute worst thing I could imagine. I’d run for about half a mile, then walk the rest as soon I was out of sight of the teachers, usually coming in as one of the last. Out of breath and freezing cold, it really was my idea of hell.

Trampolining was the one activity which I actually enjoyed at school as it involved the least amount of effort. We were given a choice of sports in the final two years, so I was quick to ditch hockey, netball and running in favour staying inside on the trampoline. A seat-drop was about the most complex trick I’d attempt, otherwise I would mostly just mess around, the rusty springs squeaking with each bounce.

Before I became jaded by PE lessons, I did used to enjoy the fun and games of sports day at primary school. Competing in teams in the sack race, obstacle course and egg-and-spoon race was the highlight of the school year.

Memories of PE at School

Did you enjoy PE at school? What are some of your memories?


  1. Recently discovering a photo of my primary school that I had forgotten official school photo. I was so upset it shocked me to remember so in class discussing memories I tore it up. What a relief to destroy it.
    The other memory that came back was senior school the boys school was next to the girls school separated by a wire mesh fence. The girls had a netball pitch which was next to fence . After school had finished for day I would walk home .
    Practice for netball was held after girls finished classes. This was 1960s . I would wander past the court looking at these pubescent teen girls running around in there airtex vests and navy blue cherub school knickers. No skirts allowed.
    No wonder we boys took so long to walk home. Bouncing boobs and bottoms. Those were the days.
    Some of this thread shows the misery of P E for girls and boys
    But it depends from whose viewpoint. Girls just hated it. Boys loved watching girls doing it. Think those days are gone now and they look after pupils a lot better now.

  2. Absolutely loathed, hated and detested PE. It was even worse than maths and that is saying something. Looked for every way possible to bunk off.

  3. I am a small man now and a small teen back in my schooldays. I’m 63 now . I hated P E . I was always put in goal when playing football. All the opposition had to do to score was kick it over my head. We wore cotton shorts no underpants allowed . Short sleeved t – shirt no vest . All weather’s rain snow heat we were out in it. Loathed showers they were compulsory. Sat in wet hair . Yuck. I got E for ability strangely A for effort. Memories of P E in primary even worse Had to do it in just vest and Pants. Horror stories I could tell of mixed classes embarrassing
    Journeys up ropes . Medicine Balls bench press games. The teachers were sadistic. We would get whacked for not making an effort.

  4. I’m a guy, but I would have given the world to wear gym knickers for sports at school. I hated football and rugby and was often told by the teacher that if I didn’t want to play football or rugby, I could don a leotard and attend the girls dance class.
    I would have given the world to do that too. Dance is so elegant and expressive and teaches a person confidence not only in performance, but also body confidence.
    In the 21st Century, we should be able to wear whatever we want, when we want and i would have surely worn a skirt to school instead of baking in the summer in long trousers.

  5. I used to hate PE lessons at school, being more mature for my age than most of the other girls and much taller, I felt very self conscious and was no good at sports and hated physical activity. I was naturally slim and could not see why any additional exercise was necessary.

    Our PE kit consisted of blue aertex top and black polyester shorts. The same kit was worn for gym, cross country running and athletics, though for netball we had to wear a blue pleated games skirt. Swimming was a one-piece blue costume. If you forgot your PE kit there was a box of spare ill-fitting kit to borrow from. If you forgot your swimming costume you would have to swim in your gym kit!

    Outdoor activities took place in all weathers, and you usually ended up sweaty, muddy or wet, and sometimes all three. There never seemed to be enough time to change or shower afterwards and the showers were really grotty anyway.

    It wasn’t until I was in my 20s when I really discovered enjoyment of physical exercise. I was able to control when and how I exercised, how long for, who with, and what I could wear, and ensure there was a warm, clean shower available afterwards.

  6. God! I hated PE at school. I am short-sighted, so couldn’t wear my glasses during the lesson. Which meant I knew nothing about balls flying towards me until they hit me!
    My polyester knickers were black, and like Charlie I have memories as a teenager having to do rounders in my normal knickers when I didn’t have my kit!

  7. I hated PE at school and it seems that a lot of us had similar experiences. I had little confidence and was rubbish at sport, therefore having to get cold outside while wearing the least flattering clothes known to mankind was awful. Also hated the open showers after, I was so self conscious. There’s nowhere to hide in PE, everyone can see how bad you are. It’s no wonder that kids grow up hating sport. Once I could do it on my own terms I found a whole new appreciation for being active.

  8. I absolutely detested PE in school. It wasn’t until I was in my late 30s where I really discovered a love of physical fitness through exercise and weight lifting. I wish I had had that drive back in my teens! Wishing you all the best for 2017, may it be the best year yet!

  9. I hated PE at school, was never good at sport always last. It was horrible, sometimes I can’t believe I work in a gym now. I did however love tennis as a child but this was never part of PE, just an after school activity!

    Great post!

  10. another one who wasn’t fond of PE… I HATED netball, swimming and ‘dance’, which was pretty much all there was for the girls (oh, and occasionally hockey which I did quite like). It’s amazing how many times one can ‘accidentally’ bring leggings instead of a swimsuit/leotard, ahem.

    I remember my mum having a massive go at the teachers because I wanted to do tennis as one of my sports for GCSE, and they said it was only offered to boys because they didn’t have a female teacher, and I’d need to get coaching elsewhere. I also really pissed them off by answering the football questions (instead of netball, ugh…) in mock exams etc, and doing better than a lot of the boys

  11. Great post Lucy. I didn’t mind PE at primary school, but was always teased for being a slow runner. By secondary, I had a similar grim PE kit to you and recall standing in goals for hockey, shivering, while the teacher wore loads of layers. We’d then have about 30 seconds to get changed, no time to shower and would end up spending the next lesson feeling red-faced, sweaty and grotty. After that I did my best to dodge it. I didn’t ever skip a lesson, but definitely put in minimum effort and tried to organise all my music lessons for PE times. Looking back it feels like nobody ever really encouraged me or tried to find something I would enjoy. My PE teachers would be stunned to find out everything I do now!

    1. Crazy how much we change isn’t it? From hating sport at school to what we do now! Yes I forgot to mention showers, but ours never worked so we had to go to the next lesson all sweaty and dirty.

  12. This is so interesting- I remember hearing a teacher on Marathon Talk saying about how they needed to encourage more girls to keep at sports, and they had introduced a longer changing time at the end, plus hairdryers in the changing rooms. I always liked being active- I used to go to gymnastics lessons, I did a dance club after school and was in the country dancing club, we did bike rides and walks as a family, and I did a 5 mile fun run with my dad when I was about ten, but at school the only thing I liked was hockey. I could not catch very well, so hated the games like netball and softball, and I found that most of the PE teachers favoured the students who were on the school teams (apart from one PE teacher who let us choose what to do, so we usually ended up playing hockey). I wasn’t a strong swimmer, but I hated most having wet hair for the rest of the day, as we did swimming in the winter (the pool was indoors) and my hair was so thick it would never dry. I also remember being so worried about missing the start of the next lesson and getting in trouble so I would never shower after, plus the showers were open and I don’t think anyone used them because of that element. It’s a huge issue for secondary schools, as that is when girls self esteem plummets, and keeping them going with sports is one of the best things to keep self esteem a little higher. I think they need to look at priorities, which is helping children to find something that they enjoy, and being active. I think the school focused too much on covering the curriculum (which I know schools have pressure to do) and not enough on enjoyment. I think if they offered a bigger range and let the students choose, they may well see participation go up which surely is the most important thing.

    1. Thanks Maria, lots of really good points there, definitely agree that they need to prioritise helping kids find something they enjoy. I remember having wet hair dripping down my back all day too, as there were no hairdryers or time to dry hair after swimming.

  13. Love this post Lucy. I actually loved sports at school as it was an escape for me – I wasn’t very good, but I tried hard. I played a lot of hockey, gymnastics, tennis, and also loved trampolining. I was at boarding school so had sports before, during and after school, plus matches on wednesdays and saturdays. I think it taught me that you can benefit so much from sports even if you’re not particularly good at it and that if you keep working hard, it does pay off! I remember those bloody knickers, mine were purple – one day I forgot to put them on and had to run the 1500m in just my own pants (they were pink days of the week in year 7! so embarrassing!)

  14. I HATED PE. I was definitely the heaviest girl in our class and sports was a real struggle, I was always so self conscious and really struggled with any of the sports, the teachers were definitely not very encouraging back in the day! Cross Country days were the worst, I hated an sort of running.. and I used to DETEST ‘bleep tests’! I remember the girls and boys doing the bleep test separately and the boys watched the girls and vice versa, I remember always having the boys sniggering watching us which was totally off putting.. oh the nightmares.. I could go on forever!

  15. The best memory I have of school PE is having a splits competition with my hunky teacher in Year 11 (!!!), other than that I hated it! I danced non-stop outside of school, and was teased for ‘running like a ballerina’ in track/cross country and ‘prancing around’ when it came to team sports. As I got older, I became very body conscious and was also dealing with the pain associated with undiagnosed hypermobility syndrome. I’d also do as little as possible…unless it was the single term of gymnastics of course. I also remember having a calorie burning competition on the rowing machines (teenage girls eh?).
    Great post, I must get that book!
    Natasha |

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