School sports days: the winners and losers


Being a stay at home dad and dad blogger I’m part of many Facebook dad groups and parenting Instagram communities and it’s clear to me that as schools wind down for their summer breaks that this is ‘Sports Day Season’. I see all the lovely pictures of kids racing and holding up medals. Lovely, smiley, happy kids.

Social media does that though, doesn’t it? No one shares a photo of an apprehensive child, no one shares a photo of the child that didn’t want to race.

The feelings of a child who’s ‘failed’ in their own eyes because they didn’t win a medal and both they and their parents have bought into the ‘have to win’ mentality isn’t represented on this form of social media.

Most social media users share their ‘wins’ and paint a picture of their perceived lives for the outside world to accept as fact (I’m guilty of it myself). No matter how much I try to be true to the reality of my life something in me loves to share when I’m #winning  and even though I ‘try to be real’, I must admit I still double check and filter what I’m putting out there.

(*Please don’t point out my grammatical errors in the comments after that statement)

It’s a common trait to show yourself in your best light. It’s the reason you had ‘Sunday clothes’ as a kid. It’s always been there, along with the trait of comparing yourself to others, (the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ attitude) its human nature. However, most people forget that these fictional Joneses are also keeping up with someone else.

A recent study found that Instagram (with over 700 million users worldwide) was the most likely form of social media to cause mental health issues in young people. A constant stream of fake versions of real lives at your impressionable fingertips, filtered (both the photos and content) to within an inch of their lives.

These images don’t represent the truth: You get the smiles but not the tantrums. You get the hugs without the arguments. You get the excited winners, not the disappointed losers.

These school sports social media posts don’t tell the whole picture of the day. As with all social media, they show the winning, not the losing. They represent what the particular account owner wants to tell as ‘their truth’ (whether that be through Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat). It’s modern-day ‘Sunday clothes’ and it’s affecting the vulnerable people in society who take it as gospel (Pun very much intended).

“Why can’t you be like the Jones kids? They’re always so smartly dressed”

Growing up in the 80’s I too had school sports days and I don’t think much has changed between then and now. I must admit at this point that my memories of school sports days were one of excitement. I always felt I could pick up a medal, that was my aim, I wasn’t in it for the fun or ‘taking part’.

I was a pretty athletic kid; not the fastest in my class but I’d be there or thereabouts (maybe a close 4th or 5th). My chances increased when other skills were introduced,  multitasking was my leverage; egg and spoon, obstacle race, 3 legged races or even the sack race. This was where I was most likely to fall over the line in a medal position (especially if a sack was involved).

I remember the medal ceremonies; watching the same 3 tall sporty kids from my age group walk up and collect medals one after the other; Fast kid 1, Fast kid 2 and Fast kid 3, let’s call them; John Jones, Shane Jones and Frank Jones (Insert your own ‘I couldn’t keep up the Joneses’ joke) while the other 20 something kids and I sat despondently. Now I must admit that I often picked up a bronze or silver in one race or another (disrupting the Joneses clean sweep of the awards). I was pretty speedy in the sack (pun not originally intended but left in to make you chuckle). But even I felt disappointed to sit there and watch myself being inadvertently called a loser when the medal ceremonies went on around me.

Sports days: a level playing field

In retrospect, it makes me think how must the already disadvantaged child feel; the child with Autism or Dyspraxia, the child with mental health problems, the child with sensory processing difficulties, the child who’s skills lie in academia or the naturally physically smaller child…

….The one picking up no medal. The one going through the motions with no hopes of ever collecting a medal. How must sports day feel for them?

In the same way I knew my strengths and limitations these kids generally do too. Having to watch your classmates pick up their medals have now had the addition of seeing them have their winning social media snaps added to the mix and shared to all in sundry. In this social media world, we live in its now just disappointment on a much larger scale.

These are the kids we need be geeing up not setting up for a fall in a stacked competition.

Pitting kids against each other like this at an early age can really demoralise those who can’t compete.

My kids school sports is run (pun intended) at night. This year we didn’t bother going. My little man wasn’t too interested in it. It seemed to make him anxious (even if he’d managed to pick up a medal last year).

I really think that the parading of medals and the ‘winners mentality’ harms everyone. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be goal oriented or that there won’t be competing in life but today’s winners won’t always win and today’s losers won’t always lose. Not all ‘races in life’ are straight with no obstacles. Why not let our kids just enjoy themselves? They’re kids after all.

Now I understand the ‘survival of the fittest’ concept and ‘winners mentality’ that some of you may be thinking about reading this and yes I’ve also heard the liberal ‘give every kid a medal’ attitude and I’m not sure I feel comfortable sitting in either camp. Maybe if you really need your kid to be in a race with ‘winners and losers’ they should be in an athletics club were every child there is capable and able rather than forced to compete in a specific discipline based upon their class.

Both Social Media and Sports days are supposed to be good things but for the losers (or self-perceived losers) they can cause serious mental issues and feelings of worthlessness. Maybe its time we thought about a change?

In my opinion, there needs to be a rethink of ‘sports days’ so they are more inclusive, I’m all for kids having fun. Maybe we should have ‘fun days’, days when every one of our kids are involved. Days without medals at all. Days with fun activities rather than competitions which have a winner and loser.

If this occurred not only would we attend but I’d fill social media with pictures and tweets about how much fun ALL the kids were having and to coin a business phrase, it would be win:win.