It’s school Sport’s day season again – a day that fills many of us with dread. A day when long suppressed memories of childhood bubble to the surface, unearthed by our own children’s anxieties about the event.
Every year it raises the debate of whether we should have competitive sports days in primary schools, or whether it should be a non-competitive, festival of activity. It is this black and white thinking that always irks me.
Why can we simply not have both?
We all know the arguments against competition amongst kids
- It creates a two-tier system of “cans” and “cannots”
- The kids brand themselves “winners” or “losers”
- It creates anxiety and stress amongst children, regardless of ability
- It’s not fair on the less able
- The parents get too pushy
Last year was a truly spectacular year for British sport, the high point of which was clearly the Olympics (including the Paralympics, I see no reason to seperate them). If the Olympics is anything it is a celebration of the diversity of the human race. Let us not forget that the World’s School Sport’s day was topped and tailed with a huge, spectacular show of non-competitive activity in the form of song, dance, mime, art and even the Spice Girls!
I firmly believe that rather than take away competiton for fear of exposing our kids to the above issues, it is our job as coaches, teachers and parents to teach, encourage and support our kids in how to handle these situations. They need to learn how to win graciously, how to accept that sometimes someone else will be better than you at something, and that in a team situation EVERY contribution matters – you win as a team, and you lose as a team – it is not one single childs effect if a team loses or wins.
My kids primary school has just had a non-competitive dance afternoon which was thoroughly enjoyable, where ALL the kids took part. Next week will see the competitive sports day, again where they will ALL take part. They’ll compete in different coloured teams, where points from each race add up to a team total. There is a Cup to be won, and there will be losers.
They could if they wanted to combine the two as in the Olympics, you could argue that would break the barriers down even more as it means they are all part of the same event, just in difference capacities.
They do however grade the sprints according to ability, so for want of a better description there is a fast race, a medium race, a slower race and a slow race in each year. This actually increases the chance of each child to get a place and means no-one is humiliated by a huge margin.
It also means that there will be kids who win races who are slower than those in the fast race who came last. In my mind that gives everyone an equal chance and doesn’t create a huge gulf.
The staff are amazing, they do such a good job in keeping it moving along quickly so no-one can dwell on the result, there’s stickers for 1,2,3 and also for simply finishing. If any child stumbles or gets nervous, a teacher appears like magic and holds their hand and helps them along before they get upset. In 6 years I have only seen 2 or 3 kids actually cry. It’s not the competition that hurts them – it is the way it is conducted. This all inclusive strategy seems to be appreciated by the parents who on the whole are hugely supportive and appreciative of all the kids.
The staff can only do so much though.
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).