Andrea Mara

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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┬ákeeping 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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