The tyranny of jocks and coaches

The tyranny of jocks and coaches
: Colleagues and bloggers John Shabe and Joe Territo dredge up unpleasant memories of phys eds past. This is inspired by a story in the Press of Atlantic City about an a-hole coach who gave a kid an award for being the biggest crybaby on the team. Shabe:

Reminds me of when I was in sixth grade and my gym teacher used to tease me in front of the other kids because I was fat. Do these guys take courses to come up with this stuff?


Not much of an athlete myself, I also had my share of asshole gym teachers. It was bad enough that I lacked the upper body strength to pull my lanky frame up a rope or to get my head above the chin-up bar. Not to mention that my eyesight and lack of coordination made it difficult for me to land my bat on the ball. Did those NFL-wannabe elementary and junior high school chumps with physical education degrees have to coax my classmates into picking on me for it?

My turn:

I was tall and clumsy and the coaches were my nemesis. I couldn’t hit a ball within a mile. I had no hope of pull-ups, let alone that dreaded rope. I turned getting medicals into a varsity sport.

I came to hate coaches and their damned gyms. They made most kids into failures. It is because of them that I hated sports and exercise and turned into a couch spud and will probably lose years off my life as a result. (Only well after 40 did I start to “run” to survive.)

My kids had great P.E. teachers in elementary school (we didn’t spend tax dollars on that job description when I was in grade school) and so I thought the era of the a-hole coach was over. But then I came across a coach like those of my youth and I went ballistic, telling her — not that she wanted to hear it — how the coaches of my youth had ruined sports and physical fitness for me and I wouldn’t tolerate it now. Those who can, do. Those who sweat, coach.

So tomorrow at work, Shabe, Territo, and I will share a communal moment of klutzes. And our very jocky colleague Hauck will make fun of us. But we’re tough. We can take it. We are enjoying the revenge of the clumsy smart guys.


  1. michele says:

    My daughter played P.A.L. basketball for many years. One year – fourth grade – she was the only girl on the team. During a play-off game, I noticed she was sitting the entire time (P.A.L. isn’t really a competitive league – it’s a “learning experience”). So my ex went up to the coach and asked him why Nat wasn’t playing. He said right in front of her and the rest of the team and any parent in earshot “I want to win.” My ex just stared at the guy (who, by the way, reeked of alcohol), not sure what to say. So the coach said to him in a very loud voice “Maybe you shouldn’t let your daughter play where she’s not wanted.” I thought I was going to have to come up with bail money at that point. To my ex’s credit, he didn’t hit the guy in front of all those kids. But we did complain and that coach was told not to come back.
    Good ending, though – the boys on the team told the coach that they wouldn’t play if he didn’t let Nat play. I think their parents put them up to it but it was nice. And I coached her team the next three years.
    There are still a lot of coaches like that around, unfortunately. I see it every week on the Little League field.

  2. Giles says:

    all of which brings us to the point – doesn’t Abu Ghraib style “torture” occur every weekend at frat houses up and down the country?

  3. Mike says:

    Great post, Jeff. God, gym class was awful!

  4. Joe Territo says:

    As long as I do not have to reveal to Coach Hauck that I finally found athletic success where many geeks did – on the fencing team, where I earned a silver medal for coming in second in the state championships.

  5. Jeff Jarvis says:

    And I got a letter… as track manager. There: The ultimate confession. Nerd. Geek. Loser.

  6. rjh says:

    Also, from my local GP I’ve learned that remembered abuse and embarassment in PhysEd is a major stressor and barrier to proper exercise in many of his patients. The athletes suffer almost as much, and are merely subject to a different variety of abuse. He specializes in executive health programs and sports medicine so he sees both sides routinely. Bad coaching and bad teachers are hurting more than the ability to read, write, and do arithmetic.

  7. The school canned his ass last night. Good riddance.

  8. eric says:

    i am one credit away from graduating college. guess what credit that is. PHYS-ED! I’m going to try get them to let me write a paper on the rules of baseball or something.
    If they make me take a class, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

  9. Max says:

    When I was 10 I got a coach fired for picking me off the ground (I had tripped and fallen on the way out to the fields) by my hair. No freak out, just kept my mouth shut until I got home and he was gone the next day. A great day.

  10. Tim says:

    What is even worse about coaches and their bullying is how your classmates and teammates would quite happily go along with and stoke the misery, maybe to draw attention away from themselves, who knows. I was bullied and harassed for years in boarding school in the 80s, from Grade 8 to Grade 12. I totally sympathize with Jeff.
    Of course, the best revenge is going back to reunions and seeing your former torturers become fat, bald and bloated. (Except that then they start working on their kids.) Bastards.

  11. KMK says:

    My oldest son is handicapped. Instead of having him attend gym with his class I asked if they could do adaptive PE with him. I just didn’t think it was fair to him or the other kids to have him in that class. School board approves it and has 13 other parents sign their kids up because they physically can’t participate in gym either. One day I get a call from the principal to tell me they had a problem in his class. It seems the coach grabbed him by the arm called him a freak and proceeded to throw gym equipment around in a tantrum. I called the school police rep and the superintendent and sat down with all of them the following week. This coach had tenure and is charge of another program that teaches kids to use words instead of violence to solve their problems. Some people would have sued instead I met with all of them, who by this time were nervous as hell I would sue. By the end of a very reasonable meeting the coach had his face in his hands crying. He apologized to my son in front of his class. I took it no further. Why ruin a mans life? I see him at all the school athletic functions as my other two kids are very active in sports and he is always very nice to us, as I am to him. As I see it this guy is reminded twice a week of the incident that connects us. He got a lesson in humility and forgiveness. Doesn’t always work out this nicely but it can.

  12. Steel Magnolia says:

    Off topic, I know, but: For someone who spends so much time in defense of free speech (for which, bravo), doesn’t writing “a-hole” (esp. in light of a subsequent quote!) seem just a bit, well, precious?

  13. Charley Foster says:

    I was never particularly athletic, and I suffered a couple of “a-hole” PE teachers during my public shcool education in the 70s. But I also recall a handfull of teachers in the more academic subjects who took delight in demeaning the less than, say, smart kids.