I’m a huge believer in sport for children, and an even bigger supporter of team sports; the earlier a kid starts participating, the better in my opinion. There are very few activities that can foster teamwork, a love of physical activity, respect for other people and a healthy love of competition in a child the way sport can. Having my own kids I’ve noticed with interest the traditions and mores that come with Saturday sport and how they have changed over time.
This week I read suggestions to remove place getting from athletics carnivals across the country. For many reasons, I find this to be an astonishing suggestion. First, the very premise of a race is to find a winner. In fact, the difference between a run around at the park and race is the fact that one has a winner and one does not. I would contend that removing the prospect of winning will ultimately result in kids not bothering to participate.
Not everyone is good at everything, and unless we are going to assign the same principles to art, music and academics this idea takes something away from the kids who excel at sport but not some other pursuits. Similarly, a bit of healthy competition is a good thing for kids to get practice at. Modelling behaviour is the best way to do that and some kids, (yes, mine included), need practice at losing. Not winning is just as important as winning and kids should not be taught to avoid competition in case they lose. Sportsmanship is learned and its an important life skill.
One of the great things about athletics is the focus on personal betterment. It’s not just about competing against the other entrants, its also about beating your best. This teaches kids to keep at something when they’re not the best and puts the emphasis on the process of and the effort of training instead of just the end result.
Instead of stripping kids of small victories and opportunities to learn essential life skills I think we should celebrate them at every level. Taking place getting away from competition celebrates no part of the act of racing. Though the intention may be for kids to not feel the sting of losing, in reality it minimises the event itself. Some say this rewards mediocrity, and though there is nothing wrong with mediocrity there is also nothing wrong with winning. I would rather we console kids with the fact that they did their best, they participated and were good sports while acknowledging the great performances of others and reminding them that their turn will come.
In fact if it were up to me I would go even further and get rid of Man of the Match trophies in team sports. At first glance this may seem contradictory, but the reality is that Man of the Match (which to my knowledge is a fairly new phenomenon) is a trophy sharing exercise. Each kid knows their turn will come regardless of their efforts or performance and it is rarely given to the best player. The kids know this, even from a very small age. I fear we are losing track of what the real benefits of sports, especially team sports, really are. Winning and losing, working towards a goal and sometimes even picking yourself up after a failure are great life lessons to be learned from taking part in sport.
Its true, some kids are born to play sport. They are great at it and this should be a cause for congratulations. Some kids are better at other things and will get accolades in different areas of their lives and that should be recognised equally. All kids regardless of their various talents should be given the opportunity to fail and to learn how to develop an attitude that says ‘I’ll work at that,’ or “I’ll do better next time.” Sport is the perfect way to foster such skills if only we would accept that kids are capable of learning them.