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EDUCATION: With Peter Clague, Kristin School

Random Pivoting Joints

Kristin School's Executive Principal, Peter Clague, recalls the fate of uncoordinated school friends and the value of having a go in any sport.

Before the image change that saw Graphics and Design Technology become fashionable subject choices in secondary schools, technical subjects bore the singularly uninspiring names of Metalwork, Woodwork and Technical Drawing. 

These were subjects I studied only as long as I had to and from which, I confess, I learnt very little.  Yet I do remember one thing most clearly from amongst those endless, boring periods deciphering cut-away diagrams of gear boxes and isometric views of bolts.  I remember a little mechanical marvel called a random pivoting joint.  From memory the RPJ, as it was known, was a rather ingenious sort of three dimensional socket which allowed anything connected to it to move freely in any direction at any time.
However, within a very short space of time, the RPJ quickly lost its true meaning and slipped into the colloquial language of the students.  This was because however useful an RPJ may have been in a piece of machinery, it was also a perfect description of the wild spasmodic twitchings of a hopelessly uncoordinated fellow student trying to play sport. 
If your arms and legs rotated freely, but always in the wrong direction, whenever you were confronted with anything remotely resembling a ball, you were branded an RPJ.  To drop a catch, fumble a pass, miss an open goal, run awkwardly – today you might be called “Unco” – at my school you were an RPJ.
I had a good mate who was an RPJ.  He was one of those really useful members of a cricket team who managed to stump himself just asking for centre.  His bowling was a danger to air traffic.  The Grounds staff loved him because he could mow an entire school field with a hockey stick and leave the ball untouched.  We had to call the armed offenders' squad the day he did javelin and shot-put. Not surprisingly, he didn't play a lot of sport.
In fact, the RPJ syndrome had the power to create a bit of a sporting desert.  Not so much the word itself, but the concept of humiliation that it encompassed.   The fear of comparison, of not meeting the expectations and accomplishments of others, of being laughed at. 
We risk more than injury when we step on to a sports field, we risk disappointment, embarrassment and frustration. It takes courage to play sport and not just in the physical sense.  Many people make the mistake of assuming that courage means the absence of fear.  In reality, courage is the ability to see your fears in perspective, to define them, consider alternatives and then choose to function in spite of the risks.
The great danger of being self-conscious, of deliberately avoiding risk, is that it sometimes drives people to inactivity.  The RPJ's at my school became inactive.  And inactivity is one of the greatest indignities of life.  Through inactivity people lose their self-respect, they lose their integrity. 
All schools celebrate their elite athletes and high performance teams.  But most importantly, we are working to give our children the courage and incentive to be physically active and reap the rewards of playing sport, risk and all. The lessons sport offers our kids are manifold, our job is to make sure the opportunities are too.

by Peter Clague