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School sporting discrimination is bullying?
I’ve decided to share my story of how much sport can influence someone’s social acceptance, because it does make an obvious difference. Over the years I have become a part of a few sporting avenues which have changed the way in which my friends and peers see me.
At the end of Grade five, way back in primary school I made the decision to change from playing AFL (which was the most popular sport for boys my age to play as I live in Melbourne) to start sailing. My parents convinced me to give the new sport a chance as they loved it when they were young. Unfortunately for them they did not have the foresight to see that this would be a terrible financial mistake being that sailing can cost upwards of $15,000 of five year periods. After about a year of becoming involved and entwined in the sailing community I learned that I did enjoy the sport, maybe even more than I had liked any other sport prior to it. It provided everything that I wanted besides a never ending case of sunburn, I found it provided the adrenalin fuelled action I had always loved and entwined with being at the beach two plus days a week. I never foresaw the never ending lines of aggravating, annoying, jeering comments and questions about why I would chose such a ‘useless’, ‘boring’ and ‘weird’ hobby. For me it would always be hard to explain what it involved except I now know that it was not going to be a ‘hobby’, it was a sporting lifestyle choice.
When I graduated to secondary school (grade seven), I had opted to have another shot at playing AFL for school as it wasn’t on conflicting days as it was in primary school. But I am a reasonably easy person to convince otherwise and was yanked in among the rugby union section of the after-school sports. This I did not know would cut a sever line between myself and the higher ranked social groups of the school. It instantly placed me in a disadvantaged position to gain social acceptance, but once again the situation is that while I may hate the social disadvantages it is the game itself which I adore and never regret becoming a part of it. Being 5”10 at the age of twelve I had developed early and the physical aspects of rugby suited me perfectly, but over the years I’ve suffered many injuries because of this attribute. Rugby has provided me with many new opportunities like leadership and social connections but it was obviously the wrong choice as the boys who play AFL were always socially superior and I’ve always aspired to be among them and not dawdling behind them.
At thirteen I decided that I would chose to join the school sailing team, unfortunately this was the worst choice I could possibly have made in my school social life so far. Apart from there being no other team members from my year level it was made up of kids who couldn’t actually perform in the sport at the level I could and were just looking for a sport that didn’t require much effort at all. School sport at my secondary school is compulsory all year round and this means that for two terms a year I spent many hours with these boys that I couldn’t relate to. It also made it more falsely apparent to my peers that sailing is un-popular to say the least. What all these peers fail to comprehend is what sailing has become to me since I was 12. Half my friendship group is from club sailing separate from school, it has provided me with some awesome travelling options and leadership roles. I have competed against and become friends with people across the continent, in Queensland, NSW, Tasmania and South Australia.
Of my years of secondary school education I have seen my fair share of bullying incidents in all ranges of sporting activities. I’ve witnessed kids being reduced to tears because of social anguish and one of the most horrible forms bullying can take which is mass prejudice leading to the feeling of becoming isolated from everyone else. What the people who are administering the social isolation either physically or verbally fail to comprehend, is that while being funny and causing a laugh for others they are being brutally cruel and in most cases cause social anguish that will stay with the person for the rest of their lives. At my school there is no ‘jocks’ or pure ‘nerds’ but there is a distinct difference between the ‘popular’ and the ‘unpopular’.
In my opinion in the first years of secondary school when final enter scores and such are still distant, kids don’t involve themselves in sports because they want to work hard. In many cases they are forced into focusing on studies because they believe that they will not be accepted into the popular group due to lack of sporting prowess. Saying this I do understand that there are still many cases of people being smart, sporty and popular and I envy those people, this I feel is because I can never maintain all three at the same time.
I also respect those who distance themselves from bullying altogether and just get on with it, those kids will be the ones who grow up to be someone. They show that they can separate themselves from a crowd apply themselves. Because of my sporting choices it has changed the way my peers see me. I feel like I am unpopular or somewhere in between the two sides of the scale but in many cases I’ve been told that I am respected for the same reason stated I respect others, that I get on with it and make the choices which are best for myself, not for what others think of me. I think that is what matters most.