It’s the time of year when thousands of schools around the country gear themselves up for sports day.
And now that I have children of my own it brings out the nostalgia of my own childhood memories of school sports days and it always fascinates me how today they seem to have evolved into something quite different to how I remember them.
Let’s go back a few years (no need to disclose how many) to a time when the summers seemed hotter, the days seemed longer and sports day brought out a sense of fun competition among family, friends, teachers and children alike. A time when PE kits involved hideous scratchy gym knickers and monogrammed netball skirts or if you happened to be the unfortunate child who’d forgotten their kit, were forced to either find something from the pile of musty lost property (which at our school was weirdly, and rather unhygienically, a purple leotard – our school colours were navy and gold so who knows how and why that made it’s way into school!) or horror of horrors you were made to do it in your vest and pants!
The day’s events ran something like this…
- The hilarious three-legged race in which you kept everything crossed you wouldn’t be paired with the child who picked their nose, or the bossy, competitive one who literally dragged you up the track determined they would win the race with our without your help. Where your legs were tied together with skipping ropes and you hoped that by chanting ‘one, two, one, two’ it would help you stay in time with your partner.
- The egg and spoon race in which actual real life eggs were used; these were the pre- Edwina Curry salmonella scare days remember, and children were still allowed to touch things that had the minutest chance of spreading germs.
- The teachers race; a child’s favourite as nothing was funnier than seeing the normally prim and proper Mrs Smith racing down the track, her long flowery skirt billowing out behind her and her tightly permed hair reaching new levels of bounce and volume.
- The parents race, which gave parents the opportunity to show off their competitive side along with their true feelings about the parents they really couldn’t stand. I’m sure there was none of this playground mafia stuff that goes on in today’s playgrounds, but maybe that’s because parents bottled it all up and waited for it to be released during sports day. Bring back the parents race I say!
- The wheelbarrow race. Best race EVER! It basically involved one child placing their hands on the ground whilst another child held their legs and then raced along the track in the style of somebody wheeling a wheelbarrow. Guaranteed laughs, guaranteed to end in a heap and unfortunately in what I can only imagine is a case of health and safety gone mad, is no longer featured in any of the recent sports days I have been to.
- Welly boot throwing. Again, no doubt there’s too great a risk of a child being struck across the mush with a flying welly, this track event has also disappeared into the sports day nether.
At my primary school we were divided up into coloured houses, or teams; I was in the Blue house. Each house would compete to win as many different races as possible and the final tally was totted up at the end to see who would win the silver sports day trophy. Yes, of course there were some children who cried when their team didn’t win, but for me what sports days of long ago had that today’s seem to have lost is the ever so important lesson that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
It’s such an important lesson for children to learn and we’ve all been there right, I mean who hasn’t thrown a Monopoly board into the air because you’ve landed on Mayfair complete with a hotel when you’ve only got £200 and Old Kent Road to your name? Children need to learn that you can’t win all of the time, that you need to be gracious in defeat, and that in order to win in future you must feel driven to up your game next time. Competition is what drives us to succeed and without that thirst for success and the self assurance that anything is possible if we put our minds to it, then how can we expect our children to grow up into strong, positive and confident adults?
Modern sports days are less about the winning and more about the taking part and having fun, which don’t get me wrong I understand sports and indeed any form of exercise should be fun, but if I’m remembering rightly, I’m pretty sure that’s what sports days have always been about. I remember winning little coloured ribbons; green for 1st, red for 2nd and yellow for 3rd, which we would proudly pin onto our PE t-shirts and celebrate our athletic abilities. We still had fun, we had a laugh and a giggle, but we also took immense pride in knowing we had given it our all and had been rewarded for it. Today, however, you’re lucky if you get a sticker and if you do get one, it’s only because every other child has one too; well done for ‘joining in’.
I went along to my daughter’s sports day yesterday and whilst it is still lovely as a parent to watch your child take part in a series of…hmm what would you call them…’PE games’, it’s not quite the same as standing on the side lines and cheering your child on as they pause mid-race to wave at you then stumble and drop their egg, before running through the finishing ribbon at the end.
As I sat on my picnic blanket, I watched as parents desperately crowded in front of each other to get photos on their phones of their children waiting in line to do a 5 second activity. They were completely unaware that whilst they were doing this they were blocking the view of most other parents and also experiencing the whole thing through a screen rather than making eye contact and actually watching their child.
In all honesty I find today’s sports days a bit of a farce and always come away feeling a sense of sadness that my child will have completely different memories of sports day to me. But I guess ultimately what’s important is that my child has had fun, has seen me smile and wave at her and that she gets to enjoy some time outside with her friends doing physical activities.
I asked my daughter what her favourite part of sports day had been…she replied
“Well I liked the space hopper and the picnic oh and going to the outdoor pool with my friends because we finished early that day”.