How to take the loser's pain out of sports days

19th May 2006 at 01:00
There's no doubting the really big sporting occasion this summer. Keep your fancy World Cups and Test series; forget athletics and Wimbledon. Hearts will be broken and legends born this year on school sports day.

Of course, there will also be the annual reports of competitive parents being slapped with Asbos and a tabloid story about "political correctness going mad" because everyone in the foundation stage got a prize for taking part, not just the winners. No two schools run their sports day in the same way, so what flavour is yours?

Are you the traditional type? Everyone gets a choice of which race they want to take part in, with the emphasis on the word, "race". The three-legged race, the egg and spoon race: they might all have a veneer of fun, but they also have heats, semis and a final with a winner and plenty of losers. If you gave the race record sheet to classes before the day, they could probably fill it in more accurately than we could ever predict Sats performance.

Perhaps you're the fun day type. It's not really sports or about competition at all, it's just a chance to have fun in a running around kind of way. If anyone utters the word, winner the round of applause for everyone who took part drowns them out. Squash and biscuits all round and a certificate for everyone to take home.

Some schools take a third way, where competition is set up between teams created for the day. Everyone takes part in every event and teams are balanced to make sure that no one gets the blame for losing and everyone gets a share of winners' glory. There is no sitting around, no desperate wait for five minutes of failure before returning to the audience. Emotions are heightened by a sense of competition, but through a feeling of inclusiveness, rather than by excluding the unworthy.

This is the one for me. I'll take the flak for being a woolly liberal if that means that a whole pile of pupils who don't normally take part in sporting events feel involved and care about the outcome. I know who the fastest runner is already and I know who can't walk 10 paces without tripping over their own shoelaces. I want all participants to be equally sweaty, excited, exhausted and positive about sports day.

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