Are readers of this blog still connected with their alma mater, the school you attended before going on to tertiary education? Certainly I’ve paid my subscription to the Old Philipians’ Association these last 50 years, and I follow, with mild interest, their Facebook group. Recently a conversation on the Facebook group caught my eye. It concerned cross-country running. During the winter us boys used to be sent off on a designated course around the streets of west Birmingham, or perhaps on several laps of the school’s playing field. No coaching, no advice, just do it. Meanwhile the masters in charge would sit and chat, drink tea.

This was OK by me. I enjoyed any sports we were made to do, though I never excelled at any. But it’s only now I realise how much outdoor sports in general, cross-country in particular, was hated by so many. They would try to avoid running with every excuse under the sun. Unable to avoid it they’d drag their feet, share a fag, risking the approbation of the sports masters.

The result? The vast majority left school with no intention of continuing to run, either in competition or to keep fit. What was the mindset of those trained sports teachers who used running as some type of punishment? Surely their role was to teach sport, not to inflict it. Those of us who continued with sport in later years did so in the form of team sports – soccer, rugby, cricket with your mates.

A common sight, back in the day. Some would claim it built character. I beg to disagree. Credit Andy Brown for the pic.

This wasn’t just my school. It was all boys’ schools. And after a miserable couple of hours in the mud and rain it was compulsory communal showers, excruciatingly embarrassing for many boys, especially with the odd creepy master peering in to make sure no one was dodging.

And the girls’ schools? I don’t know. They were the mysterious St Paul’s girls up the road in their neat grey uniforms, noses in the air, chaperoned by scowling nuns. But I do know from anecdotal evidence that many girls equally hated sports as delivered by their schools. We see so many women, now in middle age, taking up running for the first time and amazing themselves by enjoying the experience.

I’d love to speak to those old sports teachers about their approach back in those days (1960s) and I’d also like to know how that approach compares to today. Surely our schools are teaching children sport, starting with first principles and developing skills on a programmed basis. Aren’t they?