Heckler April 16, 2012
Illustration: SImon Letch
I AM a relatively new school mother and thus new to the sports world that has opened up for my seven and five-year-olds. I am also discovering from these new worlds that sport is actually not meant to be competitive.
We are not supposed to cheer our own children on but everyone running in the race. We are not supposed to state the obvious ''Oh well done, you won!'' And we are not supposed to be keeping score in the soccer game (even though everybody does).
My son has started Little Athletics. He loves running and racing and loves the exhilaration that he has run his fastest time and, lo and behold, has won a race. His age group manager asked the parents, in a lengthy email, to tell our children to focus on personal records, not on winning and beating others.
I was annoyed that yet another ''I-have-an-opinion-on-parenting'' person was telling me how my child should react should he win, and what he should be focused on when playing sport. What? I could understand if there was cause for this email, but there wasn't.
So, herein lies the problem. When did sport lose its competitiveness? Shouldn't we encourage our children to win and lose gracefully and to enjoy sport?
The media remind us constantly that we are a nation of sports lovers. Don't we also like to win? Before an international race do we want our sportsperson to say: ''I think I will give it a go and run as fast as I can'' or, ''I want to win this race''?
What is wrong with saying the latter? Are we afraid we might offend someone? It's a race, for heaven's sake.
Usain Bolt visited the children at Little Athletics. He is the fastest man in the world to be sure, but he has, presumably, a competitive spirit and has won races. Confusingly, we are celebrating Bolt's talent to run fast, but the only way we can tell that he runs fast is because he wins races (against others, mind you).
If the children aren't supposed to be competing against each other, why don't the organisers stagger the running races so that each child races individually and no one actually ''wins''? Because competition is motivating. Competitiveness is healthy, so long as everyone's effort is respected and supported.
Competitiveness is a part of life. We compete for university places, jobs and funnily enough, within adult sport. I see this attempt to quash competitiveness in schools and sports grounds confusing and unnecessary. Winning can feel good. If we are not hurting anyone then why view competitiveness so negatively?