Everyone remembers getting involved on a sports day. Each year almost every school has one and every year you hear complaints that school kids have been emotionally distressed as a result. I want to show how this can be done better.
Emily, my youngest sister, is 11 and last Wednesday she brought home two second places from her final primary school sports day. She was disappointed as she's competitive, talented and wanted to bring home the win. To say she was scarred by the experience would be ridiculous but I know there are plenty of adults and children out there that really do feel negative about their sports day experience. It got me thinking, what can we do that encourages upbeat feelings towards sport and allows each child to learn more about themselves through positive reinforcement?
Personally I don't have any strong emotional memory of glory or defeat from my school sports days but I do have very strong memories of twelve of us lobbing bean bags into the recycling bin from 15 yards; I challenge anyone to find a greater pleasure than nailing that shot. My experience of sports day wasn't about how good I was as an individual but about how good my team could work together. At primary school we would have kids from every year group in each team, the older pupils helping the younger ones - mainly retrieving wayward projectiles. At secondary school two tutor groups would be linked together. Different children would take the lead on different challenges; Andrew smashed the shot put but you wouldn't be asking him to run the 1500m. There were plenty of head-to-head events that, by their nature, produced a single 'winner' and multiple 'losers'. Coming further down the rankings didn't matter though as it was all about collecting points, points mean prizes. With an emphasis on overall team performance you bring the focus towards working as a wider team rather than as an isolated individual. Surely this reduces the trauma and increases the enthusiasm to take on the challenge?
To increases your chances of success you should compete on your strengths; therefore to increase the chances of your pupil's success they should be able to compete where they are strong. For some the traditional track and field events are what they are good at, others it's completing experiments/writing stories/building bridges out of newspaper. I believe that where there is a serious concern that "sports day" won't have a positive influence upon a particular group, broaden the remit to include challenges where being 'active' and 'competitive' are integral but not necessarily based upon traditional sport. I'm not saying we should remove sports events but to add to them with practical tasks where others have a chance to shine. Some say that we learn the most from our losses, I would argue that we learn more from our wins. It's important to encourage young people to follow a path where they are best suited. A GCSE maths paper is hugely relevant but it won't show a sixteen year old what the next best step for them is. In life we soon discover what others can do better than us, why not start early and find what we can do better than anyone else?