Still scarred by Sports Day

Sports Day

I hated Sports Day. Where was Music Day?

A friend of mine is a teaching assistant, and when he casually mentioned that he’d been helping out at his annual school Sports Day I was thrown back into a whirlpool of horrendous memories that I thought I had successfully escaped.

I am not an especially athletic adult, although I am physically active and go to the gym several times a week – mostly to throw around enormous weights, because that harp ain’t ever going to learn to lift itself. And at university I was a regular fixture in the womens’ first rowing VIII and the rugby team, despite my chronic asthma and even more chronic thunder-thighs. But I was certainly never an athletic child – rather, I was a complete nerd who spent the few hours she wasn’t doing her homework practising three instruments and hiding from bullies.

I don’t know if it has changed now but when I were a lass, sports day was a compulsory exercise (pardon the pun) – it was obligatory to enter in at least one event, embarrassing yourself in front of the entire school at some event randomly chosen for you by the sadistic PE teacher under threat of endless detention, clad only in horrendous (and indecently small) navy gym knickers and an ill-fitting aertex shirt because your mother was too cheap to buy you a new one this year despite the rather obvious onset of puberty…or was that just me?

Obviously, the whole fiasco ended with the naturally sporty kids standing smugly on a podium being showered with prizes and glory, and the non-sporty ones being utterly humiliated, as usual.

But tell me this – where was the obligatory competition in other skills? Where was the obligatory Music Day, where even the cloth-eared and tone deaf were forced to play an instrument (not necessarily of their choosing) in front of all their peers, despite their obvious lack of talent? Where was the compulsory science fair or maths olympiad? What about Pottery Day, Competitive Cooking or Do-It-Or-Get-A-Detention Drama Day?

It always seemed profoundly unfair to me to put people through an obligatory assortment of track and field events, regardless of actual talent or interest in those activities. It was never an option to compete in swimming, table tennis, trampolining, bowling or weight-lifting, to name a few – at least on a compulsory, school-wide basis. And there certainly weren’t any obligatory non-sporting competitions (unless you count exams…) Still, at least Sports Day wasn’t as bad as the living hell that was the annual compulsory cross-country run at my primary school. One year I nearly set fire to my trainers to get out of it.

What do you think? Does the mere mention of the words Sports Day bring you out in a mysterious rash requiring a note from your Mum?  Or were you one of those annoyingly smug sporty types who won everything and then beat up the fat kids in the showers?

17 responses to “Still scarred by Sports Day

  1. Absolutely fucking right! Not even just on sports day but all the blinking year – where was the banding for games? Everyone accepted that there are those who are academically minded and those who aren’t and the classes are seperated to give everyone a chance but where was the ‘can’t chuck a ball to save her life’ band in sports? Remedial netball – that’s what I needed!

    • LOL – I love the idea of remedial netball. I used to hate ball games because I can’t catch and would always end up bruising and not being able to play my instruments.

  2. my mum loves to retell the story of how, aged 5, i cried when it was sports day because it was a day when i couldn’t do any maths. (i’m just that cool)

  3. I didn’t really mind school sports – I was always quite tall for my year and reasonably fast at running so tended to get away with it, even if I was terrible under pressure – but what I loved even more was the school music competition – each house (we weren’t a boarding school, but we pretended we were for ease of competitions) had to put together an instrumental and vocal entry, which would then be performed in front of a panel of judges. Since it was up to the pupils (in my house, me) to organise, the entries normally tended towards the rock/pop end: the instrumental entries were normally about 10 people putting together a band and playing singing-free versions of famous songs (we did Perfect Day one year, Nice Dream by Radiohead another; Opus 40 by Mercury Rev another), and the vocals were a make-shift choir (including, crucially, people who didn’t really like singing), doing things like Somebody To Love by Queen and Lean On Me by Bill Withers. Some years it was a disaster, some it was a triumph, depending on who you had in the team.

    But more schools should do it, I reckon – it was just as keenly contested as the sports competitions, and like you say, offered different people a chance to shine.

    All that said, though, I’m pretty strongly opposed to competitive creativity of any form – be it cookery, music, art or whatever – because I don’t believe it should be reduced to best and worst etc. The joy of sport is that for all the physical and mental creativity it encourages, the bottom line is who scores the most points, and we all know what points win…

    • @Sam, that sounds brilliant! I wish we’d had something like that at our school.

      @Trickygirl – yeah, I liked hockey for exactly that reason too!

  4. Found this post through a Twitter RT and I can identify – I hated sports day with a vengeance! I’d rather have been sitting under a tree reading a book. The only sport I really enjoyed was hockey (not that I was any good at it, mind). I couldn’t hit the ball (puck? thing?) but I could use my hockey stick as a weapon against the ankles of the school bullies!

  5. Sportsday was ritual humiliation, and PE was what put me off sport.

    ‘Teaching’ us consisted of asking me to do something simple, and then when I couldn’t do it, asking me to do something harder. FUNDAMENTAL TEACHING FAIL. Sports streaming FTW.

    I was so pleased when I repeatedly broke fingers playing netball and got a permanent note excusing me from it! Although, given that I didn’t get treatment for the first two fractures (the teacher told me to stop crying and get back on the court – this was in the days before litigation, i guess) they never healed right and to this day a) tingle in cold weather and b) object to me bowling more than one game.

    True story.

    • I also fractured fingers playing bastard netball. Bah to PE lessons, I’m sure they did more harm than good. I really hope today’s kids have a better time of it and are encouraged rather than humiliated.

  6. Navy knickers….*shudder*

    I got a lacrosse ball in the face once. Response of the PE teacher? Make sure the blood is cleaned off the bib in time for the match on Wednesday….

  7. Sports day participation was compulsory at my primary school, but optional at my secondary school (although everyone had to go and watch the sporty kids run around all afternoon, which was kinda fun if it was a sunny day). I am profoundly grateful for this as I got bullied quite enough thank you very much.

    I LOVE the idea of compulsory music and science days, for the ritual humiliation of the tone deaf and the stupid, respectively. It would make a good movie, actually… and if no-one will buy the screenplay, it will at least make a very satisfactory revenge fantasy the next time someone who bullied me all through my teens tries to friend me on Facebook.

  8. I am afraid I was one of those annoyingly sporty types who loved sports day as yep I always came in the top three at all the events! I came first at college overall for athletics. Unfortunately my desire to become a decathlete was dashed when training for the County sports event and having a practice at triple jump discovered after clearing the end of the pit that my back is fucked! Extra bits and bobs that aren’t supposed to move decided it was time to make the PE teacher cringe when he heard the crack. His shoulders dropped and I knew it was all over. By the way I was never a bully, I went to a Montessori school when younger and that may have helped there. Your not the only one scarred by sports day.

    • @Aaron: Ooof – sounds nasty 😦 Sports injuries can be horrific, and I was always a bit concerned about the safety aspects of some things we were expected to do. As a very short person I was made to attempt to hurdle normal height hurdles and step onto stacked benches. Clearly this was ridiculous – the hurdles came up to my chest, and I could barely get up on the benches without clambering. But there was no other option.

      @Cath: Hmm, maybe I should sell the rights!

  9. Pingback: Bragging Rights Central: new archive post | VWXYNot?

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