I wholeheartedly applaud the no medals, non-competitive school sports day

It is imperative that children are active and the best way to do that is to make it fun

“I don’t think the dads are as bothered to be honest, now that it’s not competitive,” a parent said to me recently, responding to apparent absence of fathers as we watched our children squeal, laugh and generally have the best fun at a recent primary school sports day.

I’d already had a workout of my own by this stage, having covered a vast area of green lands in search of my four mini-sportsmen who were scattered to the four far-flung corners of the locality. There was much muttering and ranting as I tried to get from one class area to another, only to discover I’d yet again missed my child’s event in the scramble.

Little boys were jumping excitedly as they waited in line for their turn (some grasping the whole concept of turn-taking better than others) and cheering each other on, while parents frantically tried to make sure they were seen before heading off to have their presence “witnessed” by another son.

The key to spotting your child quickly was knowing what colour group they were in, as this year it was all about team work. And there were no medals – at a school which is fiercely competitive on the sports front.


I’m a big fan of competitive sports, both as a spectator and, in my younger days, as a participant (though I’d hate for anyone to confuse that with me being any good at it). Across my brood, there are mixed views on competitive sports. Some dislike the competitive element immensely. While some turn every game and opportunity into a competition, others are indifferent.

I’m inclined to leave them to their individual views as long as it doesn’t interfere with their enjoyment or participation. I like them to be involved in sport, whatever way they choose, and in whatever way suits them best.

Childhood obesity

I believe competitive sports are important. Beyond the fitness element and health benefits, they teach children many important life skills and lessons – some that are not particularly easy to learn. The reward of hard work and skill, learning to be a gracious loser and the idea of not giving up, are invaluable lessons ahead of adulthood.

But in spite of this belief, I absolutely, wholeheartedly embrace the idea of a school sports day that is non-competitive.

We’re living in a time where children don’t get close to the amount of physical activity they should. Childhood obesity statistics are frightening and we’re not winning the battle.

It’s imperative that we get our children active and the best way to do that is to make it fun – for all children, including those who shy away from the competitive side.

I’ve stood on the football sidelines over the years, watching kids with various levels of enthusiasm. I’ve smiled at the camaraderie of the younger teams in particular, marvelling at the sense of friendship, even if they all want to be strikers!

I’ve also listened to parents roaring at the players, having taken temporary leave of their senses. (“Get into him, killer” being the words of encouragement barked at one eight year old.)

It seems the competitive streak is often driven by the parent rather than the child.

‘Always last’

The huge difference between joining a football team, GAA club, basketball team, swim team or even athletics club is choice. A choice to be there, a choice to participate, a choice to be competitive and all that goes with that.

But school sports days are for all, including those children for whom sports are a challenge and always will be. And for the children who are painfully aware of their limitations in spite of their best efforts. Not everyone can win a medal – and these children are often only too aware of that. Nobody needs the humiliation that comes with being known as the boy or girl who is always last.

“I reckon it’s probably more to do with people getting lost in the logistical nightmare this year,” I replied, half-laughing to the other parent. “Or maybe some just couldn’t get the day off work.”

The troops arrived home from school mucky, sweaty and beaming. “That was a great day,” the one known as Mr Competitive said. “We should play rounders, it’s great fun,” he continued with no mention of the medal he might possibly have won had the usual format been adopted.

Inclusivity seems to suit children. Maybe it’s just parents who need to re-evaluate their thinking.