Monday, 13 July 2009

Everyone's a winner

Summer is sports day season and it seems as if we are living at my sons' school and nursery watching their little legs pump across the field, their eyes screw up in concentration as they try to keep that pesky egg on the spoon. But really I wonder why they try so hard when their teachers are so determined that there be no winner, no matter how far a child streaks ahead of it's classmates.

At son number two's nursery each child was handed a golden medal at the end of the day, no matter if they had performed as well as an Olympic hopeful, or as abysmally as a teetotaller in a drinking game. How are our children supposed to understand the point of competitive sport, when the whole point of it - winning - is expunged from it?

As the fastest boy in the class powers over the finish line, arms held aloft as he yells 'I'm the winner', a teacher swiftly moves in to gently remind him that 'There are no winners, it's just a bit of fun'. Does that really make the boy at the back of the pack feel any better, or just taint the victor's joy as he feels reprimanded for celebrating his win?

Schools are happy to celebrate achievement in other realms - come top of the class in maths or reading and you'll be rewarded, what's so different about the sports field? And what sort of message does this send out to the kids who might not be so hot in the classroom, but are smoking on the track?

It's as valid a profession and achievement to excel at sports. Indeed those pretty young WAGs aren't tarting themselves up to win the heart of an accountant or lawyer, instead they want to snare the ultimate prize; a professional footballer. Who cares if he may not be able to add up how much he earns, his prowess with a ball trumps any amount of zeros a good education can add to your salary. *

I am not suggesting that being good at sports is a reason not to try in the classroom, but it seems unfair that those children who excel physically are not heaped with praise in the same way as those who impress academically.

I know when I was young I was always the last to be picked by any team, having the co-ordination of a Parkinson's sufferer and the speed of a sloth. Yes, it was humiliating, but it just made beating those sporty girls in a spelling test that much sweeter.

What is the worse of two evils? To reduce all our expectations to the lowest common denominator - to allow those who fail to dictate how we treat those who triumph? Or to encourage our children to revel in their victories wherever they take place?

I suspect that the modern 'Everyone's a winner' school of thought actually means we all lose out.

*Note that I DON'T want my boys to end up with WAGs and am, as such, relieved that so far they show much more promise off the school field than on it. Phew.


  1. Brilliantly put. I hope you pitched this one to the paper...

  2. I couldn't agree more. And I'm not embarrassed to admit that I wanted my child to win all her races at sports day. (She didn't btw). Gutted!

  3. The intriguing thing is that here in the US, it's the other way round. In the classroom, the grades are much more monochrome - it's hard to shine. But on the sports field, everyone knows exactly who the stars are.

    It does seem very inconsistent. Either you should celebrate victory and achievement in every sphere, or go with the "no winners" line in every sphere. Otherwise, as you say, it's discriminatory.

  4. Of course I pitched it, but so far no dice. Still we shall see they will probably leave it to the most inconvenient moment if they do decide to say yes.

    MT - my boy was quite happy to continually point out how rubbish he is at sports, so perhaps I should rethink my theory in light of his performance....

  5. the new blog pic. My God you look like Max!!

  6. I was rubbish at sport too, but I agree, if someone is talented at sport they should be praised. I like to think that coming last in every single sack race prepared me for life anyway.....

  7. Great post! There are winners and losers in life. Schools should look for the strengths in all children and encourage them, whether it is in maths, English, art or sport!

  8. Really interesting post. I totally agree with you. I was useless at any kind of physical activity at school but I was good in the classroom. It never hurt me to come last. The thing is kids will pick up on who is good and who is not. I was always picked last for team games but it never bothered me because those people that were picked first would be asking me for help with their homework later.

  9. Here, here. Great post and I completely agree. My two boys are not at school just yet, but I already have them in training for egg and spoon and three-legged-races. Victory shall be ours!

  10. I don't get that non-competitive culture either: hardly preparing them for adult life.

    It doesn't happen at our school thankfully. You either come first, second or third and are awarded points with the team (red, blue, yellow) amassing the most points winning sports day. As they should.

    Still, traditional or PC sports day always bring me out in a cold sweat. Must be a throwback to my own, last-over-the-finishing-line childhood.