Lacks Aerobic Fitness

By David

Swimwatch is not about negative stuff. It’s about positive people with positive ideas. We’re the progressives of world swimming; a happy bunch, getting a heap wrong (in some learned opinions), but pushing on, brighter than ever, towards swimming’s promised land.

That’s true until you mention PE teachers. For our American readers, that’s “gym teachers.” PE stands for physical education. In Britain, I believe they call it “phys ed.” But I digress. Have you ever met a more desperate bunch? None of them wants to do their job. They all actually wanted to be world class marathon runners or gymnasts or synchronized swimmers. Failing at that, they become PE teachers and set about extracting revenge on all those who are any good at sport.

They don’t like us. Our presence reminds them of what they failed to be. We are their dream. You might be saying at this point, “Where is your evidence?” Well, there’s plenty.

But before that, there is a serious side to all this. By definition world class sport is a game of brinkmanship; it is living on the edge. The job of a swim coach is to push each athlete to the limit of their being; to within an inch of exhaustion; to a point where to go any further would be over training and dangerous.

Good coaches know this limit. Some sense tells them when to push for a little more and when to ease back and rest. It is an essential skill of world class coaching. Lydiard was a master; gifted at pushing, pushing, always pushing until it was the moment to back off. Every day, world class coaches hold their charges on the knife edge between under training and the abyss of exhaustion.

And just when you’ve got it right, just when the team is in beautiful balance some bloody PE teacher sends the whole school off on a 5000 meter cross country run and anyone running less than 4.30 miles will do 500 “boys” push ups. It’s craziness. In twenty or more schools I’ve gently tried to explain how their rope climbing course or two hours of football and running the lines in the gym is probably dangerous. In every case their unspoken reaction is, “Bloody wimp, I never worried about that when I was in high school!”

“That’s why you’re a PE teacher,” is something you should never say. However, it can be fun to push their buttons.

A better place to get a hearing is the Principal’s office. Here sits a guy whose degree is in pure math and has never caught a football in anger. He’ll see the point straight away. He’ll understand someone who has a legitimate excuse to miss the subject he spent four years trying to avoid as well.

For those of you who still don’t believe, here are one or two – all true – PE teacher stories.

About a month before Jane Copland won the New Zealand open women’s 200m breaststroke title, and three months before she set a national record of 2.30.92 (which stood from 2001 until 2004) in the same event, her school report was delivered. It was all good except for a standout “D” in physical education. Of even more stunning news was the PE teacher’s advice. Jane, she said, “Lacks aerobic fitness.” Sara-Jane Sheehy and Kelly Bentley, the previous and subsequent holders of the women’s 200m breaststroke record, probaly lacked aerobic fitness as well. End sarcasm.

Alison Wright still holds the fastest 1000 meter time ever run by a New Zealander. She ran 2.38.54 thousand in 1979 in Berlin’s magnificent Olympic Stadium. At the time it was the fourth fastest time in the world outside the drug soaked eastern block nations. Alison was educated at Hamilton’s Fairfield College and spent four years hiding in the toilets to avoid PE. Her senior year school cross country was won by Alison Morris. The other Alison was second to last just ahead of co-conspirator Mary Ambury; wonderful rebellion; just the way to handle school PE.

Jonathan is one of our most accomplished master’s swimmers; does a solid 2000 meter work out four times a week. At seventeen he was captain of his local swim team. For almost four years at high school he avoided PE with a friendly doctor’s sick note. Just three months before graduation Jonathan was awarded the team’s prize for swimming. Unfortunately the presenter was the PE teacher who had spent almost four years believing Jonathan was a poor soul who suffered mightily from bad health. The next day the Principal called Jonathan to his office.

“Jonathan,” he said, “Do you want to graduate?”

“Yes sir” said Jonathan

“Go to PE, Jonathan.”

Later the same day Jonathan’s Driver’s Education permit arrived in the mail excusing him from PE for the remainder of the year; four years and no PE, way to go.

We have six swimmers in our team who made state finals this year. All of them are excused PE. The moral here is if you want to be any good at sport stay away from high school PE teachers. If you don’t and here is due warning – you may become one.