‘Tubby and terrified’: How fear puts girls off PE


Gracie Rowe used to be terrified of PE.

“I was on the tubby side.My personal self-consciousness was like a devil on my shoulder telling me I couldn’t do it. It was the fact that I had to move, be active and sweat. I would just stand and watch and mope.” Gracie says she had zero self-confidence when she started secondary school.“All my friends hated PE just as much as I did.”The UK’s chief medical officer recommends school-age children do at least an hour of exercise each day.But new research with 25,000 secondary students in England and Northern Ireland suggests that, at secondary level, only 8% of girls and 16% of boys manage this.Of the teenagers, surveyed by Youth Sport Trust and Women in Sport, more than 80% understood the importance of being active but almost half of boys and nearly two-thirds of girls were less than keen on taking part themselves.The research suggests lack of confidence is key

Among girls over 14, more than a third said they felt insecure, hated other people watching them and were self-conscious about their bodies.Almost two-thirds said they disliked competitive PE lessons.

Her school now divides its PE programme into pathways, allowing girls and boys to choose how much competitive and outdoors sport to do.“The girls-only pathway is tailored to boosting levels of confidence. There will be a bit more aerobics, dance, being inside in the winter. So they’re not turned off by being outside in the rain and cold. More sporty girls are offered a mixed programme with the less athletic boys – this might involve dodgeball, football and more competitive games  .Sporty boys have a boys-only programme.

Gracie Rowe chose the girls-only pathway and liked it.“It was just the fact that we didn’t need to show off to anyone or act like someone we’re not.” Now 14, she is no longer tubby, plays in the football team for her school year, takes dance classes and is in the gym all the time .She also joined the Combined Cadet Force run at a nearby private school, knows how a rifle works and takes part in field days and camps

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