Sports Day – An important lesson in losing?

Sports dayToday it is with enormous pleasure that I host Glenda McIntosh who has been dying to write a post and to see what kind of feedback she gets so please let her know your thoughts. Glenda’s Twitter handle is @PGUK which is the official Twitter feed for the Proud Sponsor of Mums and Olympic sponsorship campaign, a round of applause please for Glenda….


Sports day? I dreaded it. Those who know me will be surprised to learn that I didn’t like the competitive nature of it. Or perhaps it was more that I didn’t like competing in something I was rubbish at. School sport, for some reason, was not my thing. I was last to be picked. I came last in the race. I had uncool trainers. One time I almost took Miss Bloomfield’s head off with the discus (by accident I hasten to add.)

The parent’s race. Ugh. On the rare occasion my Dad showed up (different post!) he embarrassed himself and me.  You can’t see, but I’m blushing at the memories.

Sports day: Let’s ceremoniously reward the naturally sporty people for doing what they’re good at and further compound the depression of those who suck.
More regularly I hear that schools are moving away from the idea of winners and losers. I hear of kids being given medals for taking part or events being included to cover a broader spectrum of abilities. The 11 year old failure inside of me brightens at the thought of this.

I was talking to a colleague of mine a few years ago about the activities our kids do. Her two girls were both keen table-tennis players, a hobby she proactively encouraged having enjoyed national success at it herself. We both agreed hobbies were a good idea but debated the pros and cons of competitive sport. “They have to learn how to lose Glenda” she said. That has stayed with me ever since. She’s right. Life is full of winners and losers, in love, work, friendship and many of the pursuits our children might grow up to attempt, including the parent’s race. I don’t like losing and I never learnt how to accept it graciously as a kid. It’s been a steep learning curve at work and I can’t help feeling I would much rather have learnt those lessons in childhood.

Should we protect them in childhood against the things which are going to befall them as adults?

Photo credit


  1. Glenda
    July 12, 2011 / 11:50 AM

    HI Jacq, Thanks for your comment. That’s a very good point. How could they learn to cope with losing if they haven’t yet developed any self confidence and if they haven’t been working on that skill set how to you give them constructive advice on how to try and win next time. More important still, yes, let’s teach them being active feels good. Couldn’t agree more! :)

  2. Glenda
    July 12, 2011 / 11:52 AM

    Hi Katie, sounds like your son has the makings of a true sports man. I bet you’re really proud of him, especially dealing so well with being beaten.
    You’ve raised another point that is probably worth exploring too which is being part of a winning team *considers next post* :)

  3. July 12, 2011 / 11:33 AM

    Yes, they have to lose how to lose BUT they have to learn the skills they need to win first. For this reason it’s best not to introduce the competitive element until they are older, about 8 years old, and can cope emotionally with not winning. This way, they learn to enjoy the activity first , without stressing about whether they are better or worse than someone else.
    And we all want out kids to learn that being active feels good, don’t we?

  4. July 12, 2011 / 11:34 AM

    I was just thinking about writing a very similar post on my blog! I think it does provide a valuable lesson in losing. My son has very good hand eye co-ordination so is good at sport and has taken to school like a proverbial duck to water. He is constantly praised (as all kids should be) and is used to winning, getting gold stars etc. However he is very average when it comes to running.To be honest I was a bit worried about how he would react in front of the whole school and all the parents at sports day when he was comprehensively beaten…But to the schools credit and his he dealt with it well and was supportive of the team rather than being personally disappointed..Losing can hurt at any age but it is an important life lesson.

  5. July 12, 2011 / 11:58 AM

    Totally agree that what we are really want is for our kids to enjoy being active…Making sport fun and enjoying the team and social elements are key to that

  6. July 12, 2011 / 7:36 PM

    Ah Glenda, yer a natural. I read that whole post in your accent.

    *golf clap*

    • Mari
      July 13, 2011 / 12:47 PM

      Ha ha, so did I! Watch out for the new girl on the block ;)

  7. Glenda
    July 13, 2011 / 7:46 AM

    Thank you Laura old bean, *slight bow*

  8. Glenda
    July 13, 2011 / 7:55 AM

    I just read the post on ‘Actually Mummy’, great post. i really like the perspective you have used. Similar point to jacq as well about considering age. Is there a point at which we become firmer about the life lessons they will need for later in life?

  9. Steve
    July 13, 2011 / 11:06 AM

    Hi Glenda, Great post/blog/article… I’m so out of touch aren’t I? Mind, I can’t believe you had uncool trainers.

    I’ve got to say my boy is a terrible loser, I’ve tried all sorts to remedy it, one day I may just have to let him win (kidding!).

    Kate and Oliver had their school sports day recently and I think the teachers had it spot on. The year groups were divided into small teams making each team a cross section of ages and abilities, they each had two older children who acted as mentors for the younger kids, they were so patient it was lovely to see, after each event the opposing teams congratulated each other on doing well (there was no celebrating even if a team had finished a task first as I think points were given fir more than being the fastest). No winners were announced on the day, they just enjoyed themselves. I think the whole win or lose element wasnt even evident.

    Before sports day I was against the notion of stopping competition, but after seeing the kids enjoy themselves and everyone have such a nice day I think they got it just right, it should be about working as a team, helping each other and being good sports.

    PS. Olivers team “gathered the most points” too :)

  10. Glenda
    July 13, 2011 / 12:52 PM

    Thanks for your comment Steven and for sharing the story. It’s an interesting one, that sounds like a nice way to end the year, like a celebration for the school as a team. Sometimes I think the notion of ‘sportsmanship’ or as you call it being a good sport is too easily forgotten, especially if you take certain footballers as an example. Perhaps being a good sport is similar to accepting defeat graciously? Do you think our kids still need to learn how to have passion for winning? If they don’t, do they run the risk of being left behind in a world of others who do?
    Love that Oliver winning clearly matters a lot to you!

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