Sunday, July 28, 2013

No fat scouts, or why I suck at sports

Are athletes born or made? I think some kids have an innate athletic ability and perhaps a natural coordination, but you gotta use it or lose it.

I don't think I ever had it to lose. I was (and still am) fairly uncoordinated and much happier to be buried in a book than be reminded I couldn't throw or catch well. But I think that speaks more to my upbringing in a household of intellectuals. My parents were not sports junkies. They played and watched tennis, although it was something they did without the kids. (I got lessons one summer when I was 15 because I asked for them).  But they never watched or played other sports. Playing catch was not something done regularly when I was a tot, so I basically went into the world without the basic tenets of athletic training.

So how did I learn? Well, that's sort of the point. I never did. If you don't have that initial push or familial interest, it's hard to become part of the group. The neighborhood kids played baseball and football in the streets and basketball in the nearby park. I didn't know how to play, which tends to make you the oddball among kids. And even though I joined in, I was of course immediately tagged as the "kid who can't play", the infamous last kid picked for a team. Everyone else came to the game knowing how to play, but there was no one to teach me.

You'd think it might be better in school or camp, but not really:

via The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green by Eric Orner


Yes, it's a joke but not too far off. I don't recall any gym class or camp outing where they actually taught you how to play sports. It was assumed you already knew how, and if you didn't...well....no one was going to help. Go stand in right field.

The same went for little league, peewee football, etc. Unless your parents made you join, it wasn't going to happen. It amazes my family and friends (and, to be honest, me) that I seem so drawn to hockey and have even tried to play it. Maybe because people were actually wiling to teach me how to play, as hockey isn't something initially taught to kids in all areas of the country. And again, I was older and I asked to learn. But a non-sporty young child? Nope.

Overall, it's a vicious cycle. The nonathletic kid doesn't get the initial motivation, continues to not receive it, and therefore continues to be nonathletic. And a rudimentary search shows that it hasn't gone unnoticed in  scholarly publications. I think an introductory line in one report captures it quite well:

"I am most concerned with the policies used to perpetuate discriminatory sporting practices in schools, and believe disenfranchised individuals deserve an apology." (Ennis)

While accountability is always good to see, I don't need an apology. But I would like to see a change in the way we all deal with this situation. It doesn't mean I would have learned to really like sports, but I probably would have appreciated it more and, yes, not been as chunky if I was more apt to play.


But even with the much more enforced after school activities we see nowadays (soccer meets and the "everyone's a winner" type parenting), I still don't see it moving away from the usual paradigm anytime soon. Why? Well, here's a great example of this in action. The Boy Scouts of America, in planning their Jamboree, have decided that scouts over a certain BMI cannot attend, as it will be very physical this year. Needless to say, this has been pretty big news. Some have attacked it as fat shaming. Others have agreed with it in policy, but call into question using BMI as an indicator.

I agree with both. This continues the whole cycle of "If you're not ready to do this, we won't teach you, which will inevitably keep you from ever reaching the goal of athletic ability or maybe even a healthier weight." And I've been pretty vocal in my own opinions on BMI. If you look at the video explaining what the Jamboree will entail this year, the scout master is none too slender and probably has a higher BMI than me. So how does this make bigger scouts feel? Isn't it supposed to be about teamwork?

I think it's great that the Scouts want to do something more active for their Jamboree. But wouldn't then the goal to be to include everyone and ensure that the heavier kids have the chance to try these activities and, I don't know....maybe learn to like doing them? Is this really the way to create a more open space for welcoming exercise?

I'm not saying this all-inclusiveness would create greater health or even more of an interest in sports. Even now in my Streamlined lifestyle, I still find baseball, both watching it and playing it, to be about as exciting as watching paint dry. But maybe I wouldn't if I learned more about it. It wasn't my parents' fault. Not all of us come from sporty families. But I don't know how that can change.

Because some cycles just keep repeating.

References:
Carlson, Teresa B. “We Hate Gym: Student Alienation from Physical Education.” Journal of Teaching in Physical Education 14, no. 4 (1995): 467–77.

Ennis, Catherine D. “Students’ Experiences in Sport-Based Physical Education: [More Than] Apologies Are Necessary.” Quest 48, no. 4 (1996): 453–456. doi:10.1080/00336297.1996.10484211.

“Jamboree Campers Thinned Out: No Obese Boy Scouts.” Accessed July 24, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/15/boy-scout-jamboree-bans-morbidly-obese/2519059/.
Lowder, J. Bryan. “The Boy Scouts’ Ban on Fat Kids.” Slate, July 17, 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/07/boy_scout_jamboree_new_rules_based_on_body_mass_index.html.
“This Week In Fat Stigma: The Boy Scouts Of America Have Forbidden Fat Kids From Attending Their 2013 Jamboree.” Accessed July 24, 2013. http://www.xojane.com/issues/the-boy-scouts-of-america-have-forbidden-fat-kids-from-attending-their-annual-jamboree.