Monday, 15 August 2016

Athletics (A Primary School Guide)

Good intentions
As with most teacher-led activities, the motives and goals are perfectly reasonable; however, the manner in which these goals are pursued often leaves a lot to be desired. Athletics has always been a minefield of danger and necessitates the use of extremely dangerous equipment such as javelins, spiked running shoes, shot putts and long jump sand pits (which after heavy rain, can take on the properties of quick sand). Ironically, athletic pursuits are usually undertaken with the participants' long-term health as a main concern but also with the faint hope that one of the pupils will represent their country in a certain discipline and endow the teacher who introduced them to it with a boast they can recount at dinner parties for the rest of their lives.
Each activity brings its own unique set of risks to the participants' health and safety, not least of which the rule of participating in just your pants should one forget one's P.E. kit. The sight of a skinny twelve-year-old boy attempting the hurdles in nothing but a pair of Spiderman Y-fronts and a Bay City Rollers vest can cause those of a sensitive disposition only the very deepest of mental scars (not least of which, the underpant-wearing hurdler).
The 100m sprint is usually undertaken on a course which is well short of the internationally accepted distance for this event, which is 100 metres. The races are run in 'heats'; the teacher uses his mouth instead of a starting pistol and never calls a false start. Six runners compete for the right to partake in round two, which will be less than 4 minutes hence, meaning the competitors have yet to regain their breath. Those unsuccessful in the opening heats can be found at the local shops during subsequent heats.
The rules for the 'two hundred metres' are simple; explained by teachers to those taking part as, 'run to that tree and back'. This essentially means the participants must run the entire length of the one hundred meters track (around forty six metres) then stop and run back again. The dynamics of this sport are open to manipulation as those who are lagging behind during the running 'to' section will inevitably stop short of the end, turn and start to run 'back', in effect taking the lead. As the supervising teacher cannot be bothered to walk forty six metres to the end of the track to ensure those taking part do not cheat, those who have completed the first '100 meters' will turn to see that everyone else has cheated. The disaffected runner finds that they are able to run faster than they thought, not because of their desire to win, more their desire to rugby tackle the cheaters.
The fifteen hundred metres is another way of saying, 'run around that field for as long as you can without passing out while I go to the staff room and have a child-free half-hour and a hot beverage'. The winners are the ones who crack the teacher's code and go to the shop for a ten pence mix-up instead.
110m Hurdles
Essentially, this race is exactly the same as the one hundred metres except the course is strewn with the bodies of those who cheated in the two hundred metres. Sometimes the teacher uses plastic hurdles, one of which is destroyed the moment Tommy 'Slapbag' Higgins attempts to leap over it, catching his foot, ripping the top bar clean off which hits him in the face causing him to fall to the ground, mangling the rest of the hurdle frame as he does so.
4 x 100m Relay
Though the metal poles used in relay races seem innocuous enough, they are often used as weapons in the wrong hands. It is therefore wise not to be on the same relay team as someone with a grudge against you. The teacher will tell you that the best way to hand the baton on to your team mate is to slap it into their hand as hard as you can. This is deemed by said person with the grudge as a licence to use the baton for any sadistic practice that comes to mind. It does make the person running the second leg run faster, though in these circumstances the changeover rarely takes place in the allotted
'change over zone'.

Before you pick up and throw a discus for the first time, it should be explained that it is nothing like a Frisbee. It is made of the heaviest wood known to mankind and edged with steel. Discuses are extremely rare and if you were (un)fortunate enough to attend a school which had one in the P.E. cupboard then it's likely you only ever threw it once, as the bones in your wrist would all have changed places and it would have been several months before you were able to wave again. As you need to be at least fifteen years old before you can even lift a discus, finding that you have prowess in the discipline is unlikely to nudge all the other things you've already discovered that you're good at aside and allow you to become an Olympic champion. At school, anyone who is able to throw it more than twice the length of their arm is recommended to the local amateur athletics organisation.
Hammer throw
This event is four times less likely to happen in P.E. as it is to happen in woodwork class.

In the 1970's, it was commonplace to find a group of kids playing with bricks and glass on a patch of waste ground, grazing their knees and rubbing them in the soil until they'd stopped bleeding. These days, the government recommends that we send our children into the street wrapped in Styrofoam with a first aid kid strapped to their backs. This charade of safety conscious melodramatics has led to a decline in the standard of British javelin throwers. If a school is in possession of a Javelin, it is unlikely that it will ever see the light of day and participants may find themselves instead, launching blunt pencils and Savaloys across the sports field. Another thing that discourages people from learning Javelin is that once you've thrown it seventy odd metres, you have to go and fetch it. You won't find many people volunteering to stand at the far end of the field ready to catch it and throw it back.
Shot Put
Far from being excited at the prospect, those participating in this seemingly futile practice will spend the first five minutes of P.E. wondering how anyone thought launching a big metal ball into the air with one hand was a good idea. Those brave enough to attempt picking the 'shot' up soon realise that once they have, they must stagger to a circle of sand within which the 'shot' can be 'putted'.  Those who opt out of this event can be found round the back of the sports hall having a game of giant metal marbles.
We've all got a shot put face
Long Jump
Success in the Long Jump very much depends on the school's facilities for staging such a discipline. Those with mainly asphalt surrounds may find the number of participants declining with each jump. The Olympic standard for this event is to have a very long runway, at the end of which is a thin white line and a sand pit. Anybody of above average ability in this event at school will find that they have cleared the two foot sand-pit and spread themselves on the wall just beyond it. The participant must run as if chased by the most terrifying thing their imaginations can create and then launch themselves at an angle of around forty-five degrees towards a patch of sand. A common mistake is to concentrate too hard on running as fast as possible and then forget to jump. Another common error is to jump too early in an attempt to ensure a foot doesn't cross the white line and then land before said white line, recording a 'leap' of minus thirty six centimetres.

Triple Jump

You are allowed three attempts at the long jump before you are disqualified for forgetting to jump, jumping too early an crossing the white line with a foot. 

High Jump

The high jump employs the most curious of all sports artefacts; the crash mat. Every six-year-old that lands on one, vows to have a room filled with them when they grow up and buy their own house. Like landing on a combination of angel feathers, kittens' eye-lashes and a nice warm hug, the crash mat is the only thing that makes the high-jump an attractive sport. Only two methods of clearing the bar have ever been used at the Olympics; the scissor leg style and the Fosbury flop, in which the athlete jumps over the bar backwards. In P.E. however, anything that gets you over the bar is acceptable. Jumping headfirst seems to be the most popular method, followed by attempting to 'hurdle' the bar. Some participants think it is perfectly acceptable to throw themselves under the bar; as long as they hit the crash mat without dislodging the bar, a legal jump can be claimed.
Read more 'Playground Olympics' in the paperback book of the same name here:

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