Mum’s and Dad’s races…

Yep, it’s that time of year again – school sports days. Where we spend all morning convincing our kids that they ARE going to do it, it doesn’t matter if they don’t win, it’s about taking part and having fun. Oh, and no, mummy and daddy won’t be doing the parent’s races because we don’t run and we don’t want to look stupid, and we hated sports day at school.

I’ll come out and say it, you won’t be surprised – I am ALL FOR competitive sports days. Big surprise, runner and PT likes competition.

My kids primary school has a competitive sports day, of sorts, it’s the kind where they do races and get points for their house/team and at the end one team gets the cup. But there is a cup, and they tend to run up the field showing it off to all the parents.

There are straight sprints, organised into heats by ability so the fastest kids in each team race, and then the next fastest, and so on. I like this, it means that even the slowest kids in each team have the chance of winning a race as they are against others of a similar ability.

There also bean bag races and obstacle races for the smaller kids, but still having winners that go to the total points.

In the 6 years I have been going to this, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a child cry or get upset at a race. In those 6 years that’s over 1200 kids participating.

It is often cited as an argument against these days that it is unfair on the kids who are less able, or there is too much pressure on the kids from parents, or that some kids cannot take losing and see it as a devaluation of their self worth.

The counter arguement will always be, “Well that’s life, and they’d better get used to it”, or “interviews are competition” etc.

True to a certain extent, but the thing that always annoys me is that we all know that this is a part of life, but to protect the kids we take the situation away from them – this is so wrong. Our job as parents, teachers, trainers is to educate the kids in how to handle these situations. This means showing them how to be gracious winners, how to accept defeat, how to enjoy competition with themselves and their friends.

This is what’s missing in my opinion.

Not in my kids school, they’ve structured the day to maximise each kids chances of success, they swamp the kids as they cross the line with their 1,2,3 stickers and then they’re dispatched back to their seats with no real time to dwell on the result.

All kids who finish the course get a sticker, and at that age they like that. There are some kids who trip, or are scared, or nervous, and before they know it, their teacher is there holding their hand and running with them. This is key for me, the kids get so much nurturing support from their teachers that they feel safe, and valued and realise that working as part of a team is important.

Then there’s the teacher’s race – usually a ridiculous dressing up / obstacle / stilt race or similar. ALL the teachers do this, they fall over, they get tangled up, they work together, but they do it. Leading by example. Not fearing ridicule or losing.

The parents appreciate the way it is run on the whole – when they see a teacher running with a slower child they all applaud that child.

I’m not saying it’s perfect – there is some screaming for certain kids but not too much.

Also, for some children, this is their chance to shine in front of their peers, the one time where their struggles in the classroom are put behind them and they gain some self-worth by performing well. I am in no way saying that kids who show an aptitude for sports, do not in the classroom, merely that it is an opportunity for another group to have their moment. In the same way that school plays, carol concerts, sports matches, dance afternoons, gymnastics displays, class assemblies all have a part to play in different children’s lives.

My own son was always one of the slowest kids in his primary school sport’s day. Usually last in the slower heats. But he was encouraged by his teachers to try his best, and to never give up, and that no matter how small a contribution you make, if it is part of a greater team effort – it is just as important. Think of Children in Need – without all the smaller donations the final total wouldn’t be anywhere near the huge sums that it raises. It’s not just about the big, one off donations.

Years later, at middle school, my son is still towards the slower end of the spectrum, but he still tries hard, and still tries for his team – something I couldn’t be more proud of. In fact at the recent sports day, he was in a middle distance race, one of the kids in his class who is a lot faster than him stumbled on the start line and refused to continue, throwing a wobbly about the injustice of it all.

The scores are worked out on 1 point for entering, 1 point for finishing last, 2 for 2nd last and so on. So every point counts. Because he felt he couldn’t win, this lad gave up, missing out on anything up to 20 points. My boy came 3rd from last – only 4 points. But 4 more than zero.

We should all lead by example though, we cannot say to our kids “that it doesn’t matter where you come”, or “it’s the taking part that counts”, if when the Mum’s and Dad’s races come along we all make our excuses and sit it out.

One of my sporting highlights last year was seeing a heavily pregnant mum take part in the Mum’s race. She simply walked the length of the 60m track, finishing last by a long shot. The message she sent out to both her kids and others, in my opinion, was hugely powerful.

So this year, stand up and be counted, show your kids that it’s ok to take part, it’s ok to lose, it’s ok to win, just do it with grace, dignity and pride.

Personally I’d rather not do the dad’s race – because of my job, and the fact that I run the local running club, everyone assumes I will win (I’ve never come close), and when I don’t I get teased by clients and friends alike. But what example do I set, if I don’t participate for fear of getting beaten or ridiculed. To make matters worse I’ll be on my way to work, often in running kit, running watch, looking like I’ve turned up desperate to win! (OK, the spikes and starting blocks were a bit OTT).

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