For the past couple of decades - or so it seems - a debate has been raging about whether or not it is right and proper to allow children to compete against each other, in races, football teams, highway code quizzes (does anyone else remember these?- I was never on the team but was totally in awe of my classmates who had swotted up on the highway code and could recite whole tracts of it), and all manner of other childhood pastimes, such that the outcome leads to winners and losers.
Minis' football in the UK very conscientiously refuses to admit to having a winning team in its events, which means that teams who become over-excited by the fact that they have scored 5 more goals than their opponent will soon have their joy and exuberance stamped out as every single member of both teams receive a medal for taking part.
In recent years my children's school has shown minimal interest in putting on Sports Day, claiming that it traditionally shows the highest rate of absences out of any other day in the school year. Hmmm - I wonder which came first, pupils' alleged non-interest in the event, or teachers' lack of enthusiasm for sport?
Last year my husband was most digruntled at having taken time off work to come and watch our son sit on his bottom for three-quarters of an hour, waiting for his turn to jump up and down three times on the spot. The poor man was so incensed that he even offered to organise a long distance race (well 3 circuits of the school field) for anyone in the school who wanted to take part. To his astonishment and fury, this offer was rejected on the grounds of health and safety.
Nevertheless, the format of this year's Sports Day was considerably different from the shambolic event of last year. I'm not sure if the words my hubby had with the head were anything to do with it at all.
This time every child was given the choice of which races they wished to take part in, and everybody got the chance to run a long distance race at the end - if they so chose. The atmosphere and level of engagement in the children was unrecognisable in comparison with last year. There was a real buzz on the playing field and children took as much pleasure in supporting their team mates as they did in winning.
For me this showed that children are completely capable of making the right choices for themselves, rather than being politically correctly herded and manipulated. Whenever this happens all the joy, spontaneity and good will is leeched away and children are left looking bored, feeling fidgety, and privately arranging with themselves to be off sick this time next year.
I have written beofre on the dangers of not allowing our children to experience what it is to win and lose. Ever since my daughter could speak there has been a constant jostling between the kids for the winning position. Such exchanges as "First one to clean their teeth is the winner - I win" and "Last one in bed smells of snakes" (?)have become part of the soundtrack of our family life.
So children are in my opinion naturally competitive - and - given the opportunity, naturally gracious in defeat (except perhaps in the case of siblings, or children who have been made to feel utterly unloved by touch-line parents who get completely stressed out at minis football matches). The more we give our children the opportunity to compete, the more they are learning, and the more their confidence and motivation builds.
Last week was a great winning week for our son. Not only did he win his golf competition on Sunday, he also won a Lego modelling competition at youth club, and a school Design Technology competition to build a hat out of newspaper. These are important land-marks in his development, and deserve to be celebrated, if only to remind him that competing is more than just taking part, it's all about winning (and losing) too.
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