Today was my son’s first school Sports Day, for me a morning of stomach-churning emotion. I hated Sports Day when I was at school. I was one of the chubby girls; embroiled every year in an unspoken battle with my friend Sarah to see which of us would come last. I can still remember the fear of standing at the start, loathing the tension of waiting for the starting gun. I dreaded the indignity of pushing my uncoordinated limbs down the track for the shame of losing in front of the whole school and their parents.
In the build up to Sports Day I have ensured my emotions were hidden from T. I’ve been relieved to see that he has been utterly excited about the whole event, talking animatedly about their practises. My only concern (other than the fear that there would be a mother’s race) was when he told me he won the practice running race and seemed completely confident that he would win on Sports Day. I tried to tell him that this might not happen and prepare him for disappointment but he was having none of it.
It was therefore with a churning stomach that I stood with the other mums and dads on the hot school field. As T arrived with his class I could see that he was finally nervous too; he was pulling funny faces and had his arms crossed awkwardly across his chest. More than ever I worried about his response to not winning.
Rows of children in white shirts and blue shorts took their places in turn at of the top of the track. All my childhood emotions came back as I watched them racing their hardest towards the finish line, many moving awkwardly and looking rather bewildered about what they should be doing. I wanted to cry as I saw the stragglers, caught up in their sacks or skipping ropes, still struggling on while the race was won and finished. Their discomfort was palpable.
T didn’t win his running race. He started well but spent too much effort looking round to see where everyone else was. I watched him wait to be given a number to show he’d come first, second, or third, approaching a teacher with expectation. When he didn’t have one I held my breath for his reaction. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders as he returned to his place. He was still smiling. He did better in the egg and spoon race, concentrating entirely on keeping the egg on the spoon and walking steadily to a clear win. I was so excited for him and he was so proud.
Some of my demons were leaving me and I started to relax. It was a nicely organised event with groups of children doing obstacle races and different games round the field, the focus not just intensely on the track. Despite my personal dislike of Sports Day I do not believe it should be stopped or made non-competitive. Winning and losing, succeeding and failing are things we have to cope with throughout life and so today has been an important lesson for T. Sports Day at his school is all about winning points for your house and I like this collective element, that the children identify with working together and being responsible for the success of their team not just themselves.
I’m writing this in the quiet hour I get while Baby J is asleep and right now all I want is to see T and give him a big hug to say well done. Well done for winning the egg and spoon race, but also well done for coping so bravely with the disappointment of not winning the running race, which I know he was so desperate to do.