Throughout my childhood, I played sport most days of the week. I attended an all-boys secondary school with a strong reputation for team sports. I played rugby, football and cricket for my school and for local club teams. I represented my county at cricket, and at rugby a handful of times. I captained school and club cricket teams which didn’t lose. I captained a county cricket team which didn’t win! Growing up, it would be fair to say that I defined myself through my experiences in sport.
Looking back, I can see certain personality traits that lend more to my becoming a PE teacher than an elite sportsman. I was competitive and motivated to win, but I was able to rationalise losing in a way that some of my more win at all costs team mates could not do. I cannot remember ever losing my temper playing sport. And I lacked confidence in my physical ability, which I attributed to being a late developer. Ultimately, I did not have the drive and the self-belief to really excel in any one sport. I was also always acutely aware of those kids in PE lessons and in teams who were less able or who did not receive the same opportunities.
Annoyingly, my partner has more stamina than me. We realised this when cycling on holiday in the alps. She would push on to the top of the mountain road, leaving me, with my exercise chimp fully exposed, breathing heavily on my way up to join her. She found it almost impossible to wait for me on these climbs. After our first bike ride in the mountains together, we joked about this concept of sporting empathy. I suggested that had it been the other way around I would have let her lead and set the pace, to maximise her enjoyment and experience. She admitted that she was unable to relate to this thought process.
Back home, I decided to drive my point home in a game of squash. Previously, I would engineer these games to win by a narrow margin, to maximise her enjoyment and experience. On this occasion, I played my best to win 9-0, 9-1, 5-0 (she gave up half way through the third game). We promptly had an argument and have not played squash together since.
Our propensity to demonstrate sporting empathy is probably a mix of nature and nurture. We can nurture this quality, but there is surely something more enduring in our nature that predisposes us to consider the experiences of others in these situations. This orientation may be a bad ingredient for becoming a world champion, but is most definitely a useful tool for the aspiring PE teacher.