A Minority Viewpoint on Sports Day

I’m going to sound like a killjoy now. I’m going to sound like the girl who always came last and never caught the ball (I was indeed the girl who always came last and never caught the ball.)

But is it time to look at refreshing sports day? Could we come up with something that’s more inclusive – something that champions the strongest, fastest kids without causing anxiety for the ones who come last in every race?

I know there are arguments about going too far with nanny-ing kids on sports day – the viewpoint that giving everyone a medal is silly; that it teaches them nothing about real life. And I agree – for older kids especially – they should be able to compete and should feel they’ve really achieved something when presented with a medal.

For smaller kids – at junior infant level – I’m happy for everyone to get a medal (as they do in our school) – I don’t think four- and five-year-olds need to get into serious competition mode just yet.

But for all the arguments about going too far in protecting them, about wrapping them up in cotton wool, I’m still left thinking it can’t be right for a child to dread sports day every year, because she knows she’s going to come last in all her races. Again. Because she still remembers coming last in all her races last year. And she wonders if she ever has a hope of not coming last.

Kid's runner - Office Mum

And of course, we all know there’s an obesity epidemic, and fitness in kids is absolutely to be encouraged. Of course it is, but that doesn’t have to mean only through team sports or competitive races. I have two daughters at school. One likes ball games and running and team activities – she is possibly taking after her dad. The other gets anxious when she has to catch a ball or compete – she is very much taking after her mum. But they both love swimming and gymnastics – the activities they do outside school. These classes are keeping them fit and healthy and giving them skills for life.

I read a very good article last week about this subject – about all the options that are out there for kids who don’t enjoy team sports or are not particularly athletic. And they’re great 364 days a year, but no use on sports day, when it’s all down to running.

And perhaps there’s an argument that all of this just toughens kids up, and that to be fair to the kids who are good at sports, we should have competition. Absolutely we should, but isn’t there a solution where there are options – where not everyone is obliged to participate in every activity?

In academic work, there is competition too, and innate talent, and survival of the fittest – there are the bright kids in every class who always get ten out of ten in the spelling test.

But the difference is, there’s no public announcement about the child who came last. Nobody else in the class knows who got five out of ten or six out of ten, and the child isn’t left feeling humiliated and anxious on front of her peers. Coming last in a race on sports day is a lot more public.

As I said at the outset, I suspect I’m in a minority here, but that’s what blogging is for – letting off steam, even when you know your view won’t be universally shared.

From the girl who always came last.

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9 thoughts on “A Minority Viewpoint on Sports Day”

  1. I am also the girl who always came last. I agree with you wholeheartedly. In my son’s school I think all of them get medals but like you said this doesn’t resolve it either. It’s the dread of sports day and coming last that needs to be looked at. I remember to this day coming last in a race on sports day in my housing estate and some adult saying to me ‘you couldn’t see your heels for dust’. I came last but got a medal because there was only 3 of us in the age group. I had to be persuaded to take part at all as I knew I would come last. But that sarcastic comment has always stayed with me. Surely we could tackle the obesity epidemic by removing some of the competitive aspect which might lead people to stop participating in sports altogether.
    Laura | dairyfreekids recently posted…Recipe: Rhubarb TartMy Profile

  2. I was also paddy last in all the races and am terrified of trying to catch the ball. I LOATHED sports days. I carried it with me all through secondary school too and just decided I was not sporty full stop. A year or two ago I started running (by myself) for health reasons and realised it was never the sport I hated but the competition.

    Although, that said, my shining moment of glory will always be the time I once, just once, won a three-legged race with a team-mate who obviously had the same short-legged gait as myself . We were perfectly synchronised, didn’t even stumble and left all the sportier kids in the dust. It was a triumph for all the ‘slow-coaches’ out there.
    Sadhbh @ Where Wishes Come From recently posted…The Family That Draws Together… Draws TogetherMy Profile

  3. Whatever happened the egg ‘n’ spoon race? Don’t remember it being hyper competitive in my day *pipe lip-smacks* Or that other measure of athletic prowess and loss of dignity – the three-legged race.

  4. My poor little junior infant came last in both her races at her recent sports day so I can completely relate!

  5. I could run fast but never catch a ball, I think you’re touched on something when you mention alternative sports – because sports day is very narrow isn’t it? It might not be possible to include swimming, but why not gymnastics? Judo? Table tennis? Perhaps as displays? And obviously no-one should have to take part – my son is allowed to take the day off school that day.
    Looking for Blue Sky recently posted…How the marriage referendum affects me and mineMy Profile

  6. I didn’t know school sports days were so narrow. Another thing to add to the ‘challenges school might present’ list. Maybe it’s selective memory but our school sports day was more focused on the silly fun races like egg and spoon and sack races, all for a laugh. There was some running etc… but I don’t remember any of us taking it seriously just laughing a lot. As you said our competitive sports and the sports which kept us fit were the ones outside school anyway, the ones we choose to do. On the other hand there were verbal spelling and times table competitions in class every week with lollipops for the winners. Rapid fire, sudden death spelling tests with us all lined up. Now that was very public and stressful for many.

    Also, in the spirit of there is always somebody worse off, in Japan senior high school students must do a timed 10km run every year as part of their graded work. The time for the race is taken from the average pace done across classes during the year. The students must run and finish the 10km within that time. The race is run on a Sunday with the whole community cheering on and watching. Imagine being the last and late home in that scenario. (And yes they do have to do it again another day if they failed).

  7. Some really good points here and there is something very primitive about the reward being only for the faster. I think persistence should be rewarded as it’s a better life skill, so medals for those who kept going until the bell etc. I also think relays help children to be in a team, and therefore not isolated. Another option is a slightly complicated obstacle course, where the lay out has to be remembered…brain might outsmart brawn in this one.
    There are lots of ways to champion something other than ‘fastest’…now you just need to join the parents association and get the ball rolling!
    Life on Hushabye Farm recently posted…The A to Z of me!My Profile

  8. Like yourself and the others who have commented, I am not at all sporty and hated sports day at school. I even look completely ridiculous in a tracksuit or anything remotely sporty, bar a fleece.
    My elderst son is not good at running or anything to do with ball sports, but he swims really well and can climb pretty much anything. His school is having a sports day in mid-June and he is already dreading it. He has barred me from coming to cheer him on because there is no point, he knows he won’t win. I am torn between talking him out of his defeatist attitude or supporting his realism.
    I agree with the comment from Life on Hushabye Farm – join the parents’ council. I am on the one for our kindergarten and find it great to have a say in things, although I am usally very reserved and shy. But when it is for the good of the children, I feel I have to speak up.
    Fionnuala recently posted…Happy Campers?My Profile

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