“those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach sports”. (from Annie Hall)

What do you think about PE teachers (sports teachers)? What’s your culture’s opinion of them? Where I come from, professional sportsmen don’t have much time for books. And that’s what we target when we joke about them. Forget about the David Beckams – those made it, and all the money, glamour, and handsomeness is too much in the way for a nasty, “dumb” joke. I’m talking about high school PE teachers. I mean, what’s with their look and motivation in life…Yet, it occurred to me recently that I’d teach my kids just what a sports teacher would…

When I was a kid, around 10 I’d say, there was this teacher – tight track suit, undistinguishable colour, spiky haircut, undistinguishable colour, eye sockets so close to each other, yet, you can’t tell whether the scalp line on the forehead is closer to the eyebrows or just everything looks too crammed in one dot…Not to mention that he was as dumb as a basket ball.

Anyhow.
The guy loved humiliating everyone – everyone short to be more precise. Everyone like me to be most precise. Lined up, the pupils – me at the tip of the tale (or at the butt crack, rather) – looked like items in a drugstore – starting with the vitamins and finishing off with the gum – small and purposeless. Besides lining us up sillily like this and asking us to shout our names one by one at the beginning of every class, there was something even more ridiculous. The guy loved training us in twos – the tallest with the shortest, and the fattest with pretty much anyone else.  He’d then make us sprint to see who was faster (was there the need to test that?). And that was twice a week for about 5 years. Long jumps, throwing disks, high jumps, 250 meters run, 100 meters run, 1 mile run…on everything – racing always against another kid (usually your nemesis! And here I only cheer for the weaker kid, not his/her nemesis).

The problem was something else though, something less evident. I’d bend on the starting line with someone Diana of a mare, twice my size. The result is unnecessary to reveal. And recently, it dawned on me that this created two possible scenarios for someone in my position:

1) to either hate sports, which I did because I always lost or was last, or
2) to create misconceptions about how I felt about who I was and how well I could perform (in anything, really).
Neither of the scenarios were particularly good.

But then, it counter-dawned on me again. What was actually the problem of having to run every time with someone much stronger than me? The sports teacher was actually not that dumb at all, just plain ugly.

Real life is just about that: unfair market competition, gender competition, status competition, intelligence competition. Neither business, education, friends, nor family even treat you fairly – it’s all a big (unfair) competition; a big race without an end line (ignore death. Although we may be competing even then – who died more tragically: me with the axe in the head or you, while having sex). We compete all the time, for time, and with scarce time and resources. No one in life ever pairs you with another goofball so you can feel good about yourself.

That’s what I would teach my kids. Measure up to someone bigger than you. Don’t be scared. Don’t grumble. Be in the smartest class, be among the greatest, the tallest (metaphorically), and the most worthy and talented. Measure up to them but don’t let your weakness or your deserved fifth place weaken you.

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