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Thursday, 8 July 2010

The sadism of sports day

I am angry, very angry.

I attended my primary school children's sports day today. I took along my pre-schooler and we packed a little picnic to make it a fun day for him.

My son ran in an obstacle race. The first task was to do an egg and spoon race until the next obstacle. When the whistle blew, my son's egg blew off the spoon and he tried to retrieve it. By the time he did so, the other boys had either finished the race of were just about finishing.

Showing what I see as great strength of character, he continued the course going through the various obstacles but finishing several minutes after the person before him. He was clearly upset and went to sit a little distance away from the other children.

He remained there with nobody offering him a kind word or anything. The teachers and staff totally ignored his obvious distress. I was on the banking on the opposite side of the field and could see he was unhappy. I watched thinking that any second someone would go to comfort him but nope.

So I got up and went to him. He was sobbing, breaking his heart. I asked him if he could cope with doing any more and he said that he couldn't. I know this will bring huge judgement but at that point, I took my son to sit on the banking with me telling the teacher he was feeling unwell. If I had opened my mouth to deal with the real issue at that time, I would have exploded. I have spent years trying to keep my children healthy emotionally as well as physically. I resent the fact that the school staff do not provide emotional back up to a sensitive child.

Then I watched as my younger daughter did her races. Inevitably, she came last. It is what happens. It is in my children's genes - I was just the same and remember the torture of sports day. People don't realize that it is not just the day itself but the worrying about it for weeks in advance and the bullying from other children afterwards.

My daughter cried after every race but was supported by staff who put their arms round her and talked to her. One even did one of the races with her which helped a lot. Then they brought her to me for a cuddle before she went back into class.

My son is that bit older and male. This does not mean that he does not need support from teaching staff particularly when bullies are giving him grief for the fact that he is not great at sports.

So I brought my son home with me. Naughty, aren't I? I love him. Why should he suffer just because he cannot run fast?

If I complain to the school about the lack of humanity from teaching staff, I will doubtless be viewed as a difficult mother. Others might say I am a loving one.


  1. That is gutting and so hard to watch. As a mother of two boys, I can sympathise.
    But these situations can also teach our kids how life isn't always fair. That sometimes, people can be insensitive to us and our feelings.
    At least he knows that he can rely on his lovely mum to offer comfort :)

  2. What a horrible experience for your son. Too often teachers group children into various stereotypes whether they base it on sex, appearance or even their name and give little consideration to their individual needs. Yes there are not enough hours in the day to attend to every child's whim but I question the suitability of a primary school teacher who ignores a child in emotional distress.

    Why is it that every child must be made to conform to the school's and teacher's ideals? Spirited children are labelled as trouble makers, intelligent children are left unchallenged to the point they lose interest and instead of receiving the extra support they need those who 'lag behind' are labeled as stupid. When they are babies we are told every child is different and will develop at their own pace but as soon as they pass through the schoolyard gates there is a specific little box that they must fit into.

    Sports day is damaging and a huge knock in self confidence for those who do poorly at sports. I hated sports day races but do remember the team sports days where the whole school was divided into mixed age teams for a variety of activities left every child with a smile on their face, well apart from when they had fallen and scuffed their knees on the tarmac.

  3. Oh I've so been there too! I was totally useless at all that stuff. I've produced one son who's quite sporty and one who's so-so but hates it. It's sad if your son was being ignored because he is male. I fear that schools are so understaffed with sympathetic souls that it's inevitable that distress like his gets overlooked. Keep him talking over such experiences with you while he will - they tend to lose the ability to communicate as they get older.

  4. That's awful, I really feel it for you, Kate. Some primary schools do it purely as team events which evens it out, but then I've heard parents complain that the athletic kids aren't being given a chance to shine. Can't win either way, it seems. So sad he wasn't supported, I can't stand it when this sort of thing happens. It's one reason why we've swapped schools. And you're not alone in safeguarding your child's mental and emotional health. I have rung school in the past to tell them my child is ill and not specified whether it is mental or physical health that is the problem. Even if we were two minutes from the school gates and I had a ton of stuff to do, my child's health comes first. You are his mum, you know him and his needs best. Well done Kate for a race (motherhood) well run!

  5. Really sorry your son and yourself had a bad day Kate. The worst thing in the world is to see your children hurt.I think I would have done exactly the same in your shoes.

    Please don't tar all teachers with the same brush though, I can honestly say no member of staff at my school would stand by and ignore a child in distress. We don't label or put children in boxes. Every child is different and every child matters. I can only speak for my own workplace and I'm really sorry your son's teachers aren't the same.

  6. I can sympathise, I was always last and couldnt see the point (till I was 12 and all the practise of kiss chase paid off but thats another story!).
    I was thrilled at my sons sports day this year because if someone was obviously the under- dog, the rest of the school cheered for them in a way that gave me goosebumps. My 7 year old son had the same experience as yours, he forgot to pick up the basket and had to go all the way back to the start, so he was well and truly last. Everyone cheered as he went by and he got a sticker for being a good sport.

    I would say all the children there enjoyed it because they were all made to feel that the taking part was the important bit....... thats what my 7yr old said when I came last in the mums race anyway!

  7. What an awful experience for you all. It saddens me to think that the people to whom you entrust the care of your children can be so indifferent. Do please be a "difficult Mother" the wellbeing of your children comes first, second and third!

  8. I got so mad reading this post. You were quite right to take your son home and make sure he was OK. In today's education system, everything is skewed to the underachiever academically - if you have a bright child it is assumed they will manage and little special help is given to allow them to learn at their owm far quicker pace. If you have a child who is a poor reader he or she would never be asked to read aloud in front of the entire school and associated parents. But heaven help the child who is a sport underachiever. They are made to suffer humiliation weekly before the entire class and at least once a year at sports day. I got to making sure that my child was 'ill' whenever sports day came around to try to protect her from this. She is a very smart, intelligent caring and sensitive kid who was reading Harry Potter before starting school and has a general knowledge better than some of her teachers. She received almost no extra help from teaching staff but was made to suffer emotionally every sports day until I decided enough was enough. She now plays hockey for her secondary school, so it did her no harm at all.
    Teaching staff told me that she'd have to get used to competition and failing when she went out into the real world, and while they have a point they forget one small point. She would not dream of competing in an area in which she had no interest or ability. Successful people know their talents and their limitations. I doubt Lord Alan Sugar knows how to wire and office for internet access, but he sure as damn knows how to find someone who does.
    Well done for putting your kid's needs first.

  9. I would have done exactly the same as you and have actually taken my children home in similar circumstances. On one occasion my daughter didn't want to compete in a cross country run (only 5 at the time - and I personally didn't think any kind of competition at this age fair). She said, 'Mummy I enjoy running, but not racing'. Wise words! Surely it would be far healthier to develop healthy, happy children with high self esteem than to force them to compete and end up with negative feelings towards sport!

    Good on you for following your instincts and standing by your child. The school system gets me so angry!!!

  10. I am a primary school teacher and I really like the way that we run sports day at our school. We do it in teams which are mixed gender and age. They are really supportive of each other and the activities that the children take part in are things they have been doing in class. We don't do individual runs with the children but the staff do and it's hilarious! I'm always last :( I would like to think that if a boy in my class was feeling left out or disappointed that I would be there for him with encouragement and understanding.

  11. I can understand why you were so angry - I feel angry just reading it - how thoughtless some people are. Your son is lucky that he has you to support him when he needs it.

  12. Ohh your poor little ones. I used to hate sports day too. Mich x

  13. Teachers aren't generally vile beings who thrive on the distress of children! Sports Day is a necessary evil which is generally demanded by the parents! I'd quite happily not run it, and I'd happily pull my non-sporties out of it, just as I pull my non-academics out of SATs (Shh! Don't tell the government!) However, parents love it, and it does give a lot of non academic children chance to show that they are good at something.

    I would argue that the Gifted and Talented programme which every school should be running shows that school is not "skewed towards the under achiever academically" merely that we take that into consideration and actually, my bad readers do have to read to the rest of the class, but they do it with a friend of their choosing at their shoulder, and reading a text of suitable challenge. How will they improve if they are never challenged? The cult of "The child is always right" is what has led us to the "Yoof of today" where the only letters they need to know are A, S, B, and O, because the school wasn't supported by the parent, allowed to discipline properly, as the child had none at home and then criticised the school when the school did their job, and heaven forbid the child ever felt failure! Now those children think the world owes them, that they don't need to get a job, that they are entitled to their rights, but they don't have to meet their responsibilities. Mummy, or the government benefits system, will always bail them out if life gets a little tricky.

    Not for my boy. We know that life is not always fair. We man up, and ride the rollercoaster. He is running sports day this year, but he's being the leg man for a child who finds running very hard, as well as doing his own race. (Leg men run with and encourage, and keep in the right tracks and so on) They will both get cheered all the way home, because that's what being part of something bigger than you does for you. Less selfishness, more supportiveness. Fine by me.

  14. Just got round to reading the imperfect parenting carnival. I hated sports day as a child for all the reasons mentioned above. If DD happens to be non-athletic too I have already decided that we will have an alternative day planned (she's 2 1/2). Btw, I think I love Nettie Thomson (above).