Why Parents Hate School Sports Day


Love it or loathe it, school sports day is a rite of passage for most parents, and a largely unavoidable one at that.

Unless you're in possession of unusually forgiving children, sports day sees even the most high-flying, career-driven parents begging for a few hours off work to watch small children fall over each other whilst tied together at the ankles.

But sports day isn't always as much fun as it sounds, and for plenty of parents it's an annual torture-fest. Not only do you have to suffer hours of other children's races just for a fleeting glimpse of your own offspring sprinting away into the distance, but the weather and refreshments are often a let-down, and sports day all too often ends in tears.

Mum of three Kerrie so hated watching her children suffer through sports day that she counts their last one eight years ago as one of the happiest days of her life.

"I always wanted to pick them up and run away from the whole debacle. My daughter was so much happier sitting in a classroom with a book, and my boys weren't stars on the sports field either. Tears would always flow afterwards - me as well as the kids - and accusations would fly - chicken, cheat, loser."

"Yep, I hate it," said my friend, Kate, mum of one, when I quizzed her for her thoughts on sports day. "I love watching my son compete, but I hate sitting through all the other kids' races. Our school has it on a Saturday afternoon and attendance is compulsory, and there are always loads of wasps. Ugh."

So does this dim view of sports day stem from our own traumatic childhood memories? "Yes," says Tracey, emphatically.

"I hated sports day as a kid because I was just so crap at everything. My biggest humiliation happened at 15 when my sports teacher signed me up for shot put, saying; 'Even you can't get that wrong, Tracey.'

"Sorry, but no girl of that age wants to be good at shot put."

Yet Tracey has come to love her children's sports day. "It's held at Crystal Palace sports arena which is brilliant for the kids," she says, but adds that the logistics sometimes make her wince. "This year sports day is happening over two whole school days. Do teachers think parents don't work?"

Of course, some recall sports day with more affection. "I loved sports day as a child," says my friend Bertan. "But purely because the teachers treated us to ice poles at the end."

Similarly, mum of one Sue loves her daughter's sports day, but reckons the organisers are missing a trick. "After suffering stone-cold coffee for a couple of years running due to the PTA not putting the urn on in time, I am thinking of asking Starbucks to do a delivery. There must be money to be made there?!"

My biggest bugbear is the unbearable new trend for non-competitive sports days. It strikes me as faintly absurd, if not downright cruel, to march children around a sports field for hours on end with no real goal in sight. And why shouldn't those who excel at sports be allowed to shine?

Kerrie agrees: "I hated the jolly brigade who say things like 'It's the taking part that counts'. What utter nonsense."

If the cold coffee, non-competition, wasps, and unnecessarily protracted and inconvenient arrangements aren't enough to make you hate sports day, the parent's race will surely do it.

The very words strike fear into my heart. At six and four, my children are still young enough to think I am invincible, so the one thing they care more about than winning their own races is that I win mine. The pressure is unbearable. Last year food poisoning got me off the hook but this year there will be no escaping it.

If there's anything more galling than competitive mum syndrome it's surely distilling it into a few minutes of all-out war as adrenaline-fuelled mothers race, elbows aloft, towards the finish line. And isn't that entirely at odds with the spirit of non-competitive sports day?

Of course, it doesn't really matter how you feel about sports day - it's for the kids' benefit, not ours, and to that end I intend to make the most of the occasion and encourage my lads in their boundless enthusiasm for sports day.

How to be supportive on sport day: Our dos and don'ts

I might also do a few laps around the garden each night before bed in readiness for the parent's race, and I'm hatching a plan to amass a group of mums to bring flasks of tea and baked goods, along with camping stools.

Who knows, we might even enjoy sports day. But that'll be a first.