I find it interesting that sport is the only subject area our education system dedicates a whole day to and insists the entire school get involved, regardless of aptitude or interest level.
Where are the maths carnivals or LOTE carnivals? What about a music carnival where events consist of playing different musical instruments? Everyone must compete but the best player wins a ribbon. Too bad if you can’t hold the tuba let alone play it, you just have to give it your best shot.
See where I’m going here?
Don’t get me wrong I believe sport plays an integral role in the school curriculum. Physical Education or Health and Fitness classes are very important to promote a healthy and active lifestyle. I just don’t believe that sport should be elevated above all other subjects and be imposed on students beyond the standard curriculum.
I have two school-aged children. They both play sport outside of school but neither are exceptional athletes. One loves sports days at school. One intermittently experiences extreme anxiety over them.
This year I decided that I would not force the latter to attend if he really didn’t want to.
There are many arguments in the “FOR” camp behind insisting your child attends sports carnivals. Some of them have merit but none of them can convince me to force my children to do something that causes them discomfort and distress.
Argument 1: It builds resilience
I believe resilience is one of the most important things we can teach our children. What I don’t believe is that a sports carnival is the great character building exercise people like to make out it is. My personal recollections of such days are filled with public humiliation and gross feelings of inadequacy. There are much more positive ways to help children build resilience.
Argument 2: It’s about team spirit
Once again there are plenty of other ways a child can learn about supporting mates and being involved in a team. I’m not convinced that the “House” system most schools use is the be-all answer to teaching this life lesson. Being involved in any group activity, such as a team sport, a band, Scouts or other community group will have a much greater benefit. In the case of my child, he’s a school councillor, a peer mediator, plays a team sport and is in the band. I think we have this one covered.
Argument 3: Participation is optional
This is different from my day, which on behalf of my children I’m immensely grateful. However, it does raise new issues. What is the real benefit to those children who don’t participate in anything? Of which I’d wager there is a high percentage. Our school sports carnival goes for the better part of two days. That’s two days of doing nothing (apart from all that team spirit stuff). What is the educational benefit? At least at home they can read a book or get ahead on their homework.
There is also the issue of kids feeling pressured to participate, which is where my child’s problem arises. Although he knows he doesn’t have to, his strong sense of duty and respect for his teachers who encourage him to participate makes him feel obligated. I also think peer pressure would play a role for a lot of kids here.
After much gentle probing I learned that last year this scenario resulted in my uncoordinated, non-runner lining up for the 800m. This year he felt physically sick at the prospect of reliving the experience, which left him feeling humiliated at coming last by a long way.
I must say I do like that our school is starting to hold more novelty events such as three-legged races and hobby horse races. This encourages participation by making the whole thing fun and less competitive. Both my boys really enjoy these events.
In future years I will continue to encourage my children to go along to the sports carnival, have fun and support their friends. However, if once again I am faced with a child who is visibly distressed at the prospect, I will not be forcing them to attend.
I am by no means advocating that children should be allowed to simply opt out of things that are too hard or they just don’t feel like doing. Teaching children tenacity, persistence and work ethic are all very important life skills.
However, as adults we get to exercise our freedom of choice to avoid situations that cause us distress or discomfort and I believe as parents we should protect and support our children’s right to do the same. Particularly if the situation they are avoiding is not going to benefit them in any tangible way.