Monday 27 June 2016

Mid-life crisis: Brendan's big idea for fat kids

Brenda O'Connor

Published 11/08/2014 | 02:30

QINGYUAN, CHINA - JUNE 14: A coach from Real Madrid stands with a young Chinese student before subbing him to a training match at the Evergrande International Football School on June 14, 2014 near Qingyuan in Guangdong Province, China. The sprawling 167-acre campus is the brainchild of property tycoon Xu Jiayin, whose ambition is to train a generation of young athletes to establish China as a football powerhouse. The school is considered the largest football academy in the world with 2400 students, more than 50 pitches and a squad of Spanish coaches through a partnership with Real Madrid. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
QINGYUAN, CHINA - JUNE 14: A coach from Real Madrid stands with a young Chinese student before subbing him to a training match at the Evergrande International Football School on June 14, 2014 near Qingyuan in Guangdong Province, China. The sprawling 167-acre campus is the brainchild of property tycoon Xu Jiayin, whose ambition is to train a generation of young athletes to establish China as a football powerhouse. The school is considered the largest football academy in the world with 2400 students, more than 50 pitches and a squad of Spanish coaches through a partnership with Real Madrid. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

When I was in school I had a learning disorder. Even back in those unenlightened days I think if my disorder had involved one of the three Rs, I probably would have got the help I needed, so that a learning disorder did not become a handicap in my adult life. But I didn't really get the help I needed and it did become a major handicap.

My problem was something that a lot of you might empathise with. I wasn't good at sport. I wasn't good at any sports. I wasn't coordinated, I wasn't fit and I didn't get it. The funny thing was that back then, that was your fault, and you were vaguely punished for it. I don't know how it is nowadays for kids but when I was an uncoordinated, unsporty, unfit child it was pretty hellish on PE day.

You dreaded PE. You dreaded the sense of uselessness. The sense of being a spare prick for not one, but usually two periods in a row. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that I am not one of those determined people who tries against all odds. If I'm not good at something, I'm pretty much not interested. And this made it worse. Because not only was I not able to do the things we were supposed to do in PE, I didn't even understand what they were. I had no model in my head for what it should look like, because I never watched any sports. So I had no concept of how I might consider going about it. Nothing to mimic, no guidelines, just an increasing lack of confidence and a sense that I had no control over my limbs.

I don't like to blame the teachers. But I suppose it didn't help me that I went to a GAA school with a GAA ethos, an ethos that probably wasn't very sympathetic to sensitive, unsporty types. I suppose there might have been a suggestion that I needed to man up a bit and get stuck in. But in truth I was incapable of that. I got steadily more paralysed as my humiliation got worse. I needed my hand held really, and these guys had no time to hold my hand. And of course I was a smartass as well, which didn't help.

If I'm being a pain in the ass for the other 38 classes of the week, why would anyone then turn around and hold the puffing smartass's limp little hand in PE time?

But the fact is that my learning disorder was just as profound and just as deserving of attention as any other mild learning disorder. To get no physical education, or to be willingly left out of it, can actually mark you for life. It took me until the age of 40 or so, after brief flirtations with rugby and then indoor soccer, to find something I could do without feeling like a spare prick.

Being unsporty probably changed the whole course of my life up to then. Playing sports has a profound effect on people. God knows how different it could have all been for me. If I had had a sporting outlet as a kid, I may not have done half the dangerous, damaging, dysfunctional things I did. I could be a more confident, well-adjusted, nicer person. But we will never know, because I never got the help I needed.

So here's the big idea. If a kid in a school has a learning disorder with regard to sport, instead of just being cast aside while the others get on with it, that person should have access to a remedial teacher who will take that person aside for some one-on-one sessions, to try and bring them up to speed and maybe find something that that person can do. It would probably save a fortune to the health services in the future. It would probably go a long way towards eliminating our childhood obesity problem. And most of all it would probably make for a lot of much happier people.

Now bear in mind, if we fixed everyone's lack of sportiness we might have less hipsters, less tortured troubadours and less tech geniuses in the country. Which, on balance, would be a shame

But if someone had come to me when I was a kid and helped me find something I could do and got me over the hump of learning to do it, it would have been an amazing gift. And, by the way, before you ask. My family, who are mainly sporty, some of them really good, did try. God they tried. But, let's face it, your family aren't always the people to help in these situations.

Sunday Independent

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