Horrors of Sports Day.


Yesterday was the school sports day. In the past few years for one reason or another something has happened to mean they have been memorable for us. When M was doing his first one, I was in hospital having my gall bladder removed – he still says I didn’t go and see him race! The following year the event was cancelled because of the weather. It was torrential rain for about 2 weeks, and so every date it was rescheduled for it had to be postponed again, until eventually it was scraped. Last year, it went ahead, but the weather turned and it was wrapped up quiet quickly. This year, everyone was joking as to what would happen. The weather had been pretty good. That was until the night before, when it rain SO hard all night. There was a lot of speculation as to if it would happen, until the text came from the school to say they would do it in the afternoon instead of the morning to allow the field to dry out.

D was still off school because of his ear infections – bad Mummy for thinking he was actually putting it on to get out of sports day. M was quietly confident about it being cancelled, and so was quite angry when the message came through to say it would go ahead. When I spoke to him about why he didn’t want to do it, he said that he didn’t like it when everyone laughed at him because he was no good at racing. I tried to pacify him but the memory of my sports days came flooding back.

As the fat kid, I was always the centre of ridicule and bullying. Sports day was a time for that to be taken a step further with not just the kids but the parents having a chance to laugh at me too. When you get clapped for crossing the line way behind anyone else you feel so insignificant to have the sympathy of strangers. These feeling don’t really leave you and when you get praised later in life, you wonder if it’s for real or if it is just a patronising comment. Its horrible to lose all sense of self belief because of the way sport is held up as the measure of achievement. Being great at maths or music or spellings count for nothing on the playground. You are only cool if you are part of the sporty crowd. I know as you grow older you realise being true to yourself is the most important thing but as a child, fitting in and being accepted is what is needed to build self-esteem, and geeks don’t fit that mould.

I was quite happy when competitive physical activities at schools became politically incorrect and kids were no longer made to compete against each other. It meant it did become about having fun rather than being nothing. It also meant those with aptitude could pursue their interests in extra curricular activities where they were with like-minded individuals and not those that had no interest. At the boys school the previous sports days have been great for letting all the kids do their best with nobody being singled out. It has been organised chaos where they work in groups of half a dozen kids and they take turns at whatever activity is in front of them, and when they’ve all had a go they move on to the next one. The kids were on the go constantly with little time to get cold or bored. To see 300 kids changing activities was like watching a well oiled machine. It was amazing, and all the kids came away feeling they had done their best. It was a great day.

This year though the school went for traditional races with the first three across the line getting rewarded in each race. When I saw this, I understood why M had been so upset about the ribbing he had received, I hadn’t realised the change when I had spoken to him. The school was split into three age groups. M was almost in tears as he came across the line of the running race he took part in as he was so far behind the rest of the boys. There was then lots of the kids sitting on the wet grass waiting for their next race while the other groups raced in the same discipline. Three other times M was close to tears as he lost time and again. He almost came third in the bouncy hopper racer but the kids running not bouncy got the rewards – if they have to be competitive they should have at least been made to do it properly rather than teaching them that crossing the line by any means even cheating was better than being last. In his leg of the egg and spoon race he had his egg balanced with the other hand behind his back, and was last, but kept it well-balanced, and yet other kids ran with two hands on the egg and spoon – how is this teaching them fair play?

When I picked M up after school, he has a sticker saying he had given good effort, which he had, but I just felt it was really condescending. Without prompting from me, he said the whole thing was unfair because so many of the kids weren’t doing the races properly. His sense of injustice was a very valid one. If he had to be made to do it, then everyone should have been following the rules.

When I mentioned to a couple of people how much I disapproved of this type of activity, I was told it is an important lesson to learn, to loose. I agree in life that kids have to learn that loosing is all part of it – I actually believe we learn more from not coming first than we do from winning. I do feel though that putting M into a situation that stressed him out so much was wrong. He just doesn’t comprehend how cheats get rewarded. He also doesn’t understand why because he isn’t a fast runner he should be punished by being name called and having kids laugh at him. It’s a bad place to put him in just because sports day is a traditional part of the school year. Someone else said that its only fair on kids that are good at sport that they get a day to shine. I agree they should have their moment, but not at the expense of those that just aren’t into it. Every child should be made to feel important and special in whatever they excel at, so when they have the times tables day and those that are good with their brains are given the opportunity to shine I will stop saying how much I think competitive racing in school is unfair.

M has asked me when he “has to go through that again”, to which I was able to reassure him it was only once a year. I am just glad D was too poorly to go as I know he would have been devastated by it all. I can only imagine I will have two “ill” children this time next year if it is this format again.


One response »

  1. Hi Jane. Your blog fell off my reader! I decided to look you up again.

    Our local primary school does a mixture of the group/ team work thing, and then just a very few races at the end, one running and one obstacle, so that everyone gets something out of it.

    The worst thing about excessive competition is that as you describe, it can lead to cheating and instil in people the need to win no matter what they do along the way. Which is horrible 😦

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