What is it with competition? Life is one big competition isn’t it? Survival of the fittest and all that. So, why can’t kids compete against each other anymore? Are we seriously thinking that they will be damaged if they lose? Yesterday was my children’s school Sports Day (or Games Day), which, by the way was only an hour long. There was a host of excellent games encouraging the children to physically stretch themselves, but there was no official competition. Participation was the name of the game. This has got me thinking.
Last year’s Sports Day, held at Mells First School in Somerset, was one of the best that I have attended. It embraced a competitive spirit by allowing a small number of individual races. It encouraged teamwork through events that would only succeed if the team pulled together. It called for every pupil to participate in order to get the most out of the day. It gave the children the opportunity to aspire to greatness either in their team or as an individual performer.
Being a child with a dicky ticker I was not an athlete. Oh, and, to rub salt into the wound, my parents sent me to a school that was (and still is) renowned for its sporting prowess. I remember Sports Day was a day where I knew that the only race I would stand a chance of winning was the egg and spoon (slow and steady always wins that one!). Coming last in the sack race, the 500m run, and the hurdles, well it was just one of those things. Yes, I wished that I was faster and that I would shock everyone by breaking tape in at least one other race, but when it didn’t happen, I wasn’t sat in a corner crying at the end of the day, wondering how awful my life was or that I would never be able to do anything. Being surrounded by high achievers possibly made the loss easier to bear, after all how could I realistically compete with a county athlete? However, I remember Sports Day being a day spent in the open air, cheering on friends, dreading the 500m run and desperately hoping I would suddenly twist my ankle so I didn’t have to compete (which by the way never happened).
I don’t think that I have been damaged by the experience of coming last. I know what it’s like to suffer the indignity of running that last 100m on my own, when everyone else has finished, yet it hasn’t held me back from other successes off the track. It didn’t mean that my parents loved me any the less. It didn’t affect my ability to spell challenging words. It didn’t affect my ability to be kind to others. Indeed it is frequently said that there is more to learn from failures than successes. Why then are we not allowing our children to develop this skill? Sports Day is where we learn resilience, dignity, generosity of spirit, the ability to aspire and improve ourselves. The ability to congratulate our peers whilst feeling disappointed in ourselves, which is surely one of the highest hurdles we have to get over in life. The desire to compete not just against ourselves but against others, to stretch ourselves and push our own limits. Allowing us to achieve things that we never thought possible.
Sports Day shouldn’t just be about participation. There is more to take from the event. It’s about learning that we can’t all be brilliant at everything. Oh, and that that’s ok. That it’s not the end of the world to come last in the 100m sprint. Let’s face it, as only one person can win a race (unless it’s of the three-legged variety) there are more Sports Day losers out there than winners. Sports Day is the ideal opportunity to allow our children to learn that just because we lose it doesn’t mean that we are Losers.