For Families In Panic Or Calm, Dealing With Kids Sick Or Well

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad P.E Teacher?

Dypraxics, sport and physical activity

Kids' sports

Not everyone’s a ‘team player’ & that’s OK!


Der-Da….Der Da…Der Da Der da Der da.  Yes, the theme from Jaws may call up the image of a threatening dark fin emerging from the coast.  But for a lot of us, the same rhythm might evoke a pair of hi tech slightly scuffed trainers, a shiny nylon tracksuit, a square jaw and an intimidating frown. Male or female, the P,E teacher is a familiar figure in school related nightmares.


Don’t you want to get into that freezing communal shower with all your clothes off?  Don’t you want to play rugby on a snow bound pitch with only shorts coming between you and frostbite?   How about an enjoyable game of netball where you’re playing wing defence? – you are 5ft 4 and your opponent in the same position is 6 foot 2.  All three of these are real examples from my own school’s Physical Education classes. The guys playing rugby without tracksuits did get frostbite and their parents sued.  I’m sure some would call them snowflakes, which is oddly appropriate.


If P.E classes can be a chore for those who don’t like the sports prescribed for their gender – at my school, cricket, rugby, football and basketball for boys and netball, hockey, rounders for girls – then dyspraxia can add another dimension of horror.   Students with dyspraxia are by definition students with co-ordination issues. They could be problems with catching balls, hitting balls with other objects, judging spatial distances and trying to manoeuvre one’s own body between other bodies. All this can make team sports challenging at best and humiliating at worst.   Sequences of actions can also be a problem, which can affect fluency in games and dance.


Each child needs to become aware of his or her strengths and limitations.   To give examples from my own family, my dyspraxic father was a keen footballer but did have a lot of accidents and knocked out quite a few teeth while playing.   My dyspraxic brother played cricket, football and most racket sports competently. As it happens, he taught me all of these games. I made the third tennis team at school and even have a medal from the Lawn Tennis Association for being their best student on a summer course.  But in netball and hockey, I was a disaster. When my snooker loving grandfather decided to tutor me in the art of potting balls, I put the cue straight through the baize on the table. The hotel people were quite nice about it.

Dyspraxic children may prefer individual activities like swimming or running where they can find their own rhythm without the competing input of other bodies.   Sequences in dance will need to be rehearsed and it is better to copy someone who is facing the same way – this avoids left right confusion. The same applies to disciplines like yoga or Tai Chi.  The slow movements of the latter might be especially good for promoting body awareness. Plain old walking in natural environments is another good choice – watch out for those little pot holes for sure, but I’ve seen some ramblers with fairly strange gaits and they go at quite a pace.


Some children with co-ordination problems may receive physical therapy of some sort from a physiotherapist or occupational therapist.   They will be given exercises and activities to improve muscle tone, body awareness, co-ordination and increase confidence in their ability to control physical activity. I think this could be very positive with one proviso: avoid over emphasis on normalisation.   I can think of several athletes or dancers who don’t do things in the conventional way – Bob Fosse’s hunched shoulder choreography or McEnroe’s peculiar serve are two examples.


It is always a good idea to check if a dyspraxic child also has some level of hypermobility – the conditions sometimes overlap and it is important to identify physiological as well as neurological causes for weaker muscle tone.

My own interest in certain activities was promoted because nobody suggested I had to do them to be normal or socially acceptable.  My sister taught me to dance but I was something of a natural for that. This is certainly untrue when it comes to salsa, tango or anything requiring formal sequences. All the sports I like, bar swimming, I learnt outside school.

So I would say that a dypraxic child should never be forced into over participation in conventional sports.   Try out various activities and keep it light and unpressured. We’re living in a society where the cyber world can drown out any interest in moving through living physical environments so just getting outside and doing something with your body is probably vital.

Where fine motor skills are concerned, cooking, decorating or some form of crafts, if done in the right spirit can be enjoyable.  Lots of painters use mess and big splodges. If you find something you love doing, it becomes motivating to work on your weak points in order to continue doing it.  I meet plenty of dyspraxic students who evolve their own methods for tying shoe laces. I have yet to make a fruit salad where the pieces are all the same size – but that’s pretty dull and as long as it’s in the bowl and not on the floor (the pieces that went on the floor are the bin) then who cares?  In Design and Technology, my brother was deemed to be a risk to himself and possibly to others. They put him to cookery instead and I still remember with fondness the scones and the Christmas cake he produced.


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