The problem with math and sports

The Stammering Dunce
4 min readSep 14


Also published on Wordpress.

Quite a while ago, I wrote a blogpost about how people’s hatred and fear of math was caused by the poor teaching; I even wrote an Indonesian version of it. While I didn’t write any about sports education, my sentiment was more or less the same.

But, recently, I realised I didn’t get the full story.

I remember that even when my sports and math teachers were pleasant, I still hated their classes. When I hear anecdotes about other people (from different countries, mind you) telling their bad experiences in those subjects, very rarely they mention abusive teachers.

While I still stand by my previous assertion, it is clear I was missing something. It took me some time to realise one glaring problem: the wider society.

Societies perceive math with high regards, albeit implicitly. It is believed that if you are good in natural sciences and engineering, disciplines which definitely incorporate math to some degree, you are immediately considered intelligent, regardless of the reality.

Sports are also culturally significant in many societies. They are more than just about health (if it was ever a concern in the first place), they are also about collective, borderline-religious identities and — most frustratingly — upholding arbitrary and ever-changing gender roles.

And those put pressures on us.

If you lack any penchant for STEM, let alone not showcasing talents for them, you are considered intellectually inferior cretins with no bright future; God forbids if you choose to major in “useless” and “soft” disciplines like social sciences and humanities, especially humanities.

If you lack any interests in sports, you will be perceived as anti-social (which is ironic considering the well-known behaviours of sports fans all over the world) and uncaring about your health (ignoring that many people do sports for the cool factor, for fun or to get laid and many of them still smoke and have poor eating habits). If you are male, that trait will make others perceive you as unmanly and effeminate.

Those pressures are already taunting enough. In this case, they seep in to the classrooms, adding even more stress to the already-stressful environments.

Some of you may argue the injury is “self-inflicted” and we let ourselves affected by other people. And I call that victim-blaming.

The thing about social pressures is they are not optional; they are forcibly imposed upon us and if we fail to fulfill them, we will be forcibly given unsavoury labels. Not giving a damn is harder than it sounds, especially when you are an impressionable teenager or you grew up with the belief that absolute conformity is a virtue.

Oh and, considering you actively participate in the shaming, you genuinely sound like a gaslighting abuser.

Some of you may also argue we are too whiny, considering every school class can also be traumatic and, in the end, we get the benefits of math and sports, anyway.

Benefits, what benefits?

Okay, math classes taught us basic calculating skills. But, what else? They fail to teach all of us rational thinking and they certainly fail to give all of us an entirely new perspective on life.

In my personal case, social science and humanities are the ones who gave me both; I started appreciating the complex and multifaceted nature of life — both in its tangible and intangible forms — after studying the disciplines in greater details.

Sports classes fail to make students physically fit and socially cooperative, not even in the short term. They fail to make us appreciate physical health and social interactions.

Let’s be honest here: how often do you hear about anyone traumatised by other school subjects, especially ones like arts and humanities?

Unless they involve abusive teachers and classmates or there are expectations to succeed in said disciplines, I am confident your answer is “rarely”. If you ask people about their least favorite subjects, I am confident math and sports would be among the top answers everywhere.

Admittedly, I cannot find any data which affirm my beliefs; I am entirely reliant on my personal observations. If you can provide multiple peer-reviewed studies which results can be replicated in various culturally distinct countries, I would change my view.

My point is that don’t put math and sports on the highest pedestals. Being high and mighty about them won’t do any good; it only makes people hate those school subjects even more.

And the more they hate those subjects, the less they will get the benefits.






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The Stammering Dunce