So the annual humiliation of thousands of schoolchildren across the country is in full swing. You know when they are yanked out of the classroom, often unwillingly, and onto a nearby playing field where they are made to compete to the death against their classmates in a seemingly neverending stream of unimaginative races – almost Gladiator style if some of their overly-competitive parents are anything to go by.
I am, of course, referring to sports day.
Our six-year old daughter is one such child who really doesn’t like sports day. She hates losing and is normally put up against kids that reduce her chances of winning even further. She gets so het up about it that she does worse than if she was just running a race for the fun of it.
So this year my wife has taken a stand. The other day she said she was just going to say her little girl had a poorly tummy and couldn’t make it into school for sports day. Was I ok with this? Well, yes, I guess I was, mostly. My only bugbear was why couldn’t we just be honest and say our daughter just doesn’t want to take part. As though we just didn’t want her to go on a school trip.
Sure we had to sign a permission slip but then we have to sign one to say they’re being taken across the road to visit the post office. As it should be. But you just sign these forms as a matter of course and there is usually no room for protest. It is almost as if they don’t want anyone to stop their kids from going. Or conscription as it was called during the Second World War.
And I do believe there is ample ammunition for conscientious objectors like our daughter, so to speak.
Why is it deemed socially acceptable to make kids run in races where their physical weaknesses are inevitably going to be exposed and deep down they will be made to feel somehow inferior to their winning classmates. I’m sorry but no number of ‘well tried’ badges or ‘never mind’ pats from their teachers can change that.
What if we ended each autumn term with a school academic day where kids compete in a races to see who can be the first to say their nine times table correctly or who can read a popular fairy tale the quickest. Or spell the most words from the letters in the school’s name. All in front of an audience of parents.
I tell you, there’d be an outcry, there really would. It’s not the done thing to make kids feel inferior academically but in sports it’s ok.
So, yes, I was all ready to go public with this argument in school. And then I emailed my wife to ask how our little girl had enjoyed her anti-sports day at home. Maybe they made ‘down with the egg-and-spoon’ banners or something.
Far from it in fact.
She replied: ‘Oh she had a lovely time. She won a race and even has a medal.’
What?! What happened to not making her go in? I’ve written a whole blog on this, I said. I’ve even made a clever analogy with conscription in the Second World War. What am I supposed to do?
‘Well, you’d better rewrite it,’ came the reply. ‘Not only did she go, she actively took part and enjoyed it, and even won the final race which won her team the overall medals, so she’s really happy and proud. It was the parents who felt conscripted standing there in the pouring rain!’
At least she gave me a good conscription gag, I suppose. A happy ending then for my daughter at any rate but I still believe my point about sports day stands. It is, at best, a flawed tradition, celebrating the physically strong with no regard at all for the rest.
Really our daughter was lucky. Apparently, her teacher talked through her issues with her and she ended up looking forward to it, even asking for broccoli for breakfast to give her strength. But to any parents of kids who are not so lucky, take a stand and make the points about sports day that I have made because they still hold true.
The competitive parents can say all they like but, in the words of my wife, ‘as a confidence building exercise, sports day is akin to a demolition derby for lots of kids.’ It is indeed time to stop running them down.