Do you remember your sports days at school? I distinctly recall coming last in a fancy dress race one year; this can only further evidence how awful I was (and am) at all types of sport. For someone like me, sport was purgatory – I should have been allowed to stay in the school library and read instead.
I’ve had no reason to go to a sports day in the intervening thirty years or so; the merest thought of them hasn’t even entered my head since that fateful day. However, I’m now a father, and so I get to see it from another angle; watching my son participate.
Sports days have certainly changed since I was a child. We always took part in competitive games every year; I don’t recall ever winning, but to be fair, I didn’t expect to win. I was nowhere near the best at sport, and there wasn’t a single jot of ambition within me; I wasn’t even interested in being mediocre at it. So winning the games didn’t even enter my consciousness; I’d just get through and get back to my book.
Now, however, competitive sports doesn’t appear for most kids on their sports day. I can’t help thinking that’s a shame. Competitive sports shouldn’t mean non-team-work – learning to work together is incredibly important, and I want my son to learn that at every available opportunity. But he also needs to learn that there are opportunities to compete in fair, open races, because life is like that.
Children also need to learn the difference between fair, open competitions and non-fair competitions. I want my son to recognise that and feel confident at challenging unfair competitiveness. I don’t expect school to do it all by itself, but there is a place in the curriculum for that – and sports day is a perfect place for him to be educated.
But that’s by the by; I was able to go along to sports day along with my parents – who I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to keep away with a crow bar if, for some reason, grandparents weren’t allowed. But I’m glad they were there; they have formed an excellent bond with their grandson that’s delightful to watch, and I can see the absolute affection in which they hold each other.
My son, through a variety of circumstances, has never had anyone come to his sports days or other school activities before. It breaks my heart to even think of that possibility, but it’s sadly true. For him to have people there who loved him and wanted to watch him clearly made him so happy; the sheer joy on his face when he saw us (and his aunt and uncle, who were there to watch their children in different years) was beyond the wit of man to describe. He knew, I hope, in that moment that we meant what we said and had turned up; he could trust us.
Sports Days are precious things, and I hope that I never, ever miss out on one. Competitiveness is absolutely fine, as long as it’s taught alongside teamwork and collaboration, and it teaches important life skills. And I’m also able to show my son that I follow through on my promises – that he can trust me – and that’s the most important lesson of all right now.