Games for a laugh

4th August 1995 at 01:00
One afternoon in the last week of term, I saw three children from my sons' school in tears being comforted by teachers. That morning, my 11-year-old had stomach pains and had been retching into a bowl. Talking to other mothers, I heard about other children with stomach-ache or difficulty sleeping the night before.

What caused so much distress? Sports day - not sports day at a highly-competitive independent school, but at a large village primary. For the children who can fly like the wind, it causes no problem. For those who are poorly co-ordinated, overweight or just not good at sport, it is a nightmare. Even for those who enjoy running, but who fall half way down the track in front of the entire school and their parents, it can prove a disaster.

Why do we put our children through this annual torment? Some may say competition is character-building; or it's the taking part that's important, not the winning; or that it is a tradition of school life. I just felt immense pity for those children in tears or in pain.

Team games at the end of the "sports" produced some close races, enormous enthusiasm, lots of shouting - and were fun to watch. More importantly, the children who were not so fast or so nimble at passing the ball, were hidden a little from everyone's gaze. Some of them also had the thrill of being on the winning side.

I wish that sports day could be abandoned and replaced with some other summer event. Perhaps an afternoon of team games, with a few races for those who want them, would be less stressful for the children and a lot more fun to watch.

Sally Smith is a parent of two boys aged 8 and 11 and is a tutor in adult basic education

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